When we help people in community express their gifts, we are building the heart of democracy.  That is a wonderful understanding of this work.  [ABCD] is not just about communities being productive.  It is about democracy.”  John McKnight

I have been blogging through John McKnight and Peter Block’s book, “The Abundant Community” and sharing their challenging assessment of our country as one of “consumers” not “citizens.”  As I listened to McKnight at the ABCD Festival in the UK, I realized more deeply than I had previously that ABCD is a social movement.  It is a movement to revive democracy.

I grew up in a small town in central Texas in the 1980’s.  I was taught that the United States was a democracy.  I made this claim to my well-educated 21 year old daughter while we were in the UK and she said, “Mom, everyone knows that the United States is a Republic not a Democracy.”  

I confess, I had no idea what the distinction was.  So, I googled it and found this helpful clarification.

“Frequently, politicians, and many ordinary Americans, refer to the United States as a democracy. Others find this aggravating because, unlike in a democracy where citizens vote directly on laws, in the United States, elected representatives do – and, therefore, the U.S. is a republic.”


“The United States is, indeed, a republic, not a democracy. Accurately defined, a democracy is a form of government in which the people decide policy matters directly–through town hall meetings or by voting on ballot initiatives and referendums. A republic, on the other hand, is a system in which the people choose representatives who, in turn, make policy decisions on their behalf.”

In our own country, few people would claim they believe their desires for our country are truly “represented” by their representatives.  Thus the following observation by Cormac Russell deeply resonated with me:

“The schism is between citizens and the governments that represent them.”  Cormac Russell.

While in the UK I learned a new word, “Gapper.”  Gappers are those who stand between institutions and the community with the goal of holding institutions back and creating spaces for democracy to take root.

In the UK most “gappers” I met actually work for governmental institutions.  This is obviously a difficult position to be in.  These individuals are trying to  hold back their employers.  Gappers literally stand in the “gap” between the government and the citizens they are seeking to serve, holding back the government and empowering ordinary citizens to strengthen their own communities and thus reducing the dependence on the institution.  As you can imagine, this is a tough job.

Prior to my time in the UK, I would never have thought of myself as a gapper.  But I realized that it is a pretty good description of the work that Embrace Richmond does.  Instead of standing in the gap between citizens and governments, we are in the gap between the church and a neighborhood.  While this gap often feels huge to me, it is nothing compared to the gaps that my friends in the UK are trying to stand in.

I came away from the ABCD festival feeling rather blessed to have the opportunity to work with institutions that are grounded in faith and that organized for community.  I am very blessed!

When ABCD is done well it is inherently political and uncomfortable.” Shawn Samuels

While in the UK, I also realized that ABCD, when fully embraced, is inherently political.   This privilege of releasing the gifts and building associations of citizens carries a tremendous level of responsibility.  As John McKnight said, it is not primarily about the productivity of a community, it is about democracy.

I returned home this week to launch five previously planned Dream Catcher Listening Projects in five different neighborhoods.  There are between four and six high school age youth in each of these initiatives.  I now more fully understand that their job this summer is not simply to discover their neighborhood assets, it is to revive the heart of democracy.

By the end of the summer, I hope they demand, “Nothing about us without us,” from all the institutions (schools, government agencies, non-profits, churches, etc.) that claim to be working for their good.

I pray that they recognize that communities have a job to do that institutions cannot do.  Their job is to create and release an abundance of intangible assets such as friendships, acceptance, belonging, dignity, creativity, optimism, hope and authentic caring. These are things that no institution can pay employees to create.  Only citizens working together can foster a healthy community.

I invite you all to follow the stories of these young political activists.  They will be practicing their right of free expression by unlocking the gifts of their neighbors.  They will be utilizing their right of freedom of assembly to build associations that will change their community.  Their stories will be collected on the Embrace Richmond website and will be shared on the Embrace Richmond Facebook page.  So “like us” and follow their journey.

I would love to hear your stories of how democracy is being revived in your community.  John McKnight shared this question that I now submit to you,

Can you tell us what people have done here together to make things better?”” John McKnight