From 8 to 12 September democracy activists from all over Europe gathered in the German city of Wittenberg, close to Berlin, to learn how to implement and develop a democracy organisation. The summer academy was organised by Democracy International.
Wittenberg is the city in which Martin Luther lived about 500 years ago. From Wittenberg the reformation started when Luther disputed the claim that freedom from God's punishment for sin could be purchased with money.
In that historical context, Wittenberg was a well chosen location to bring together people who all share the intention to change their countries' political system through better forms of citizen participation. The goal of our international summer academy was to teach activists from Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, Scotland and the Netherlands how to start-up a democracy organisation in a professional and sustainable way.
Common reflections on democracy work
In that sense the academy started with brainstorming on Democracy International's self-understanding and on how to build strong democracy groups. We arrived at the image that democracy activists are gardeners, planting the seed of direct democracy in the countries and growing the plant carefully to make it blossom.
Beata Novomeska of the Slovak Association for Direct Democracy
The following days consisted of pratical learning. The staff of Democracy International's office in Cologne gave an insight into their day-to-day work of communications, fundraising and office management. Also, Andreas Müller and Cora Pfafferott explained how to use the database CiviCRM and the content management system Drupal respectively, both on offer for use to the young democracy groups.
Gerhard Schuster, Andreas Müller and Gerhard Meister
During the last two days, the groups were tasked with developing a business and governance plan on how to start their own democracy initiatve. This session was facilitated by Dr. Raban Daniel Fuhrmann, an expert on organisational development, who also had worked out the full programme of the summer academy.
Witnessing the enthusiasm and hands-on mentalitiy of everybody making a presentation, it became clear that the week in Wittenberg had helped planting the first seeds of democracy activism, now to blossom in every state. The first harvest is to be yield at Democracy International's next summer academy in 2015.
Voices from participants:
"I wish to thank you again for the very interesting and pleasant meeting we all had in Lutherstadt-Wittenberg. I am full of ideas and still preserve the spirit of that wonderful city as well. I hope to keep up the enthusiasm in my future work!"
Georgeta Ionesca, Romania
"We would like to thank you for inviting us to the summer academy. It was a great week. We appreciate that you devoted to us your time and effort to teach us about direct democracy more and that you cared for us so much. We got inspired and soon hope to put into action our new ideas. Your energy has inspired us so much that we believe it will bear fruit."
Beata Novomeska, Civic Association Direct Democracy, Slovakia