On Service and Participatory Democracy

I sit with 400 other Philadelphians in the Jury empaneling room. 400 people a day leave their everyday lives to come and sit in service of our democracy. I love jury duty. I love being reminded by my physical action of coming downtown to the court house, and by the welcoming judge who tells us again, that the United States’ system of judgement by a panel of your peers is unique in the world. And it doesn’t work without people showing up. Flawed and beautiful, one and the same. Together we sit, a true microcosm of our beautiful city. Young and old, black, white, Asian, Latino, and others. From our clothes, handbags, and backpacks, you can see we come from all socioeconomic brackets. We all have cellphones and social networks we are connected to – relationships and causes that matter to us.

Today is also the first day of school. I am thinking of the service it is to society to be a teacher devoted to educating other people’s children. Where would we be without our teachers and school administrators? I, for one, was happy to hand over The Darlings to other adults. Let them learn from other people – absorb their points of view, follow their rules, find role models, debate beliefs.

In the court room is a judge, a bailiff, court reporters, a public defender and a prosecutor. The Judge reminds us that we are not to judge based on the fact that a charge has been made or by the color of the uniform a person wears. We are to listen to the facts, and work together to sort out what happened. Police officers and detectives cycle through reporting what they saw. The crackerjack young lawyers make their arguments of the facts. Our jury sits in deliberations. Through each of our life experiences we listen. And then we debate. In every jury that I have been a part of I am impressed by the care these citizens give. The quality of the listening and inquiring surpasses that of many corporate meetings I have been a part of. A person’s life is on the line. The stakes are high and the citizens know it. We are stronger and humbler by our diverse life experiences. We do our best.

Teachers and Principals instill a love of country and awareness of what a working society demands of its citizenry. I participated in my high school’s student government and in my state’s Model United Nations conventions a million years ago when I was my kids’ age. These days I participate in society as best I can from voting to jury duty; protesting and counter protesting, making donations and generally “representing” for the underlying values of liberty and freedom, self-government, equality, individualism, diversity and unity. There are inherent tensions in our pursuit of living out these values. Yet we do it. My peers in the jury room somehow have absorbed these values and are rising to the challenge using what their teachers taught them ever so long ago as we lean in and decide.


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