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The future of hope within our democratic institutions

by Alice Buckley
| January 2, 2022 12:00 AM

I am rounding out my first term in the Montana Legislature and have spent the past year thinking about hope: where we find hope, how we create it, what is both feeding and eroding it, and the future of hope within our democratic institutions. I am writing to share one of the conversations on hope I’ve been having with myself.

I recently returned from a legislative leadership academy with a bipartisan group of state lawmakers from across the West. We gathered to learn about the history of state legislatures, how to negotiate and build consensus, communicate effectively, and find common ground.

We also spent time together studying the history of democracies – the Athenian democracies and Greek republics – all of which came to an end after several centuries, driven, in part, by disregard for political norms and violent rhetoric.

These history lessons made me think about Montana’s 2021 Legislative Session. As a Democrat in the deep minority, I watched how our caucus was marginalized and side-lined without adherence to process. Over the course of the session, I imagined that if Democrats were in the majority, we would treat the minority party with the graciousness and integrity we did not receive. But in conversations with my colleagues from the legislative academy, Republicans in the minorities in Oregon, Washington, and Colorado, they told me their Democratic colleagues treated them just as we were treated.

These stories make me feel disheartened. We are working within a system that dehumanizes people and belittles efforts toward kindness and recognition of our humanness. I am disappointed in our bipartisan behavior toward the “other” that seems to come as a reflex of unexamined power. I also recognize thoughtfulness around power opens up space to include everyone in the work of building an ethic of love in politics. This work takes discipline and a caring for each other and the integrity of our democracy.

It is challenging to run a campaign on a platform of curiosity, generousness, middle-ground, and thoughtfulness. The messaging doesn’t come easy. This kind of campaigning demands more time, attentiveness, listening, asking the questions, and a rejection of the reductive soundbites and slogans we are accustomed to in politics. But campaigns built on disparaging or distancing ourselves from each other make it hard to serve with a spirit of partnership and decency.

Despite all of that, a beautiful thing about politics is that the closer we get to the people, moving from national to state to local public service, the more our partisan divides diminish and the easier it is to find common ground, shared values, and consensus. I find hope in We, the people. I find hope in public servants who are meeting people where they are and doing the work that directly improves the lives of those in their communities. I will continue to search for hope in democracy by showing up with love, integrity, and humanness.

Rep. Alice Buckley, D-Bozeman

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