By Terry Chadsey
Posted September 21, 2012
I had the privilege of seeing our democracy with new eyes this August when six teacher/facilitators from South Korea went with me to Madison, Wisconsin. While the initial premise of the trip was to visit Parker Palmer, we took a side trip to to the Wisconsin State Capitol
This core team has grown Korean Circle of Trust programs for the past five years (see last week's blog). Earlier this year one member of the team, ChanHo Kim, a professor of sociology, translated Parker's latest book, Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit, into Korean. It's now in its third printing.
South Korea has a challenged history with Democracy and members of the team shared with me their own stores and concerns every bit as timely and deeply challenging as those currently shared by U.S. citizens.
On our last day in Madison we had an unexpected opportunity in Democracy. We had a few hours before leaving so I invited the team to walk through the Wisconsin State Capitol. I have a fascination with American history and this capitol building is one of the grandest and most beautiful in the United States. Built early in the 20th century, it is full of grand public hallways, a central hall under a soaring cupola and legislative and judicial chambers adorned with huge paintings depicting the history of the state. As if this wasn't enough, there is a constant union protest going on in the rotunda and we were invited to join in singing classic labor songs in a space with great acoustics: "Which side on you on? Oh, which side are you on?"
Wandering this building and watching the union protest with my Korean colleagues had an unexpected impact on me as I saw this building and democracy through their eyes. One colleague said, "This is a cathedral to Democracy." Others were amazed that labor protests were allowed inside. I realized that this is not only a beautiful building. Like so many other public buildings in this country, it is a container for the infrastructure of Democracy--the holding of tensions--that Parker J. Palmer writes about in Healing the Heart of Democracy.
I realized that this building (and so many like it across the U.S.) would not be built today but that its presence and history has much to teach us about Democracy as we approach contentious presidential elections here and across the world.
As we entered the rotunda, one of the protesters unrolled a banner with a broken heart at the center: "We'll be here until [this broken heart] gets better."
What lessons do you find in such public buildings in this Democracy?