The first conference of Writing Democracy took place at Texas A&M-Commerce, March 9-11, 2011. Over 150 scholars, students, and community members convened to explore existing and possible ways we can “write democracy” in the United States. We heard from John Duffy (Notre Dame University), Michelle Hall Kells (University of New Mexico), Nancy Welch (University of Vermont), David Alton Jolliffe (University of Arkansas at Fayetteville) Jerrold Hirsch (Truman State University), Elenore Long (Arizona State University), and David Gold (University of Tennessee), as well as many others from across the country at concurrent sessions. Inspired by the Federal Writers’ Project in the 1930s and calls for ethical discourse responsive to local conditions and global realities, conference participants looked at place, history, local publics, and popular movements in an attempt to understand and promote democracy through research, writing, and action. As part of the project of writing a “new roadmap for the cultural rediscovery of America” as the Federal Writers did 75 years ago during the Great Depression, Writing Democracy is committed to helping to create rhetorical space to combat what Welch terms “la lange de bois” (woolen language) of neoliberal policy. Together we decided that our first task is to explore, discuss, and debate what Writing Democracy looks like as we encounter the new realities of the 21st century, including the unfolding disaster in Japan that hit on the final day of our conference. As we sat in conference rooms in rural Commerce, Texas, bringing together local stories of change spurred by an alliance of students and community members “writing against” racism in the 1970s, the global news of the earthquake interceded through our smart phones and iPads. Confronted by an uncertain future threatened by environmental and economic crisis, we looked to our past, our present, and each other to imagine how we as scholars, students, and citizens can contribute to reinvigorating democracy through research, writing, and local and global engagement. We saw many models of democracy in action across the country–here and there, then and now–that will inform the ongoing discussion we hope will take place through Writing Democracy.
The conversation continued at CCCC 2012 in St. Louis, where we held a half-day workshop with key scholars like Jeff Grabill, Kathy Yancey, Steve Parks, Elenore Long, and many others (see Writing Democracy 2012). In 2013, at a full-day workshop in Las Vegas, we dive in still further! Please also take a look at the CLJ special issue on Writing Democracy, which featured sustained discussion of the overall project and proposed next steps. Join us!