Today I saw democracy and it was beautiful. I went to a local city council meeting, where a proposal to encourage recycling and divert cardboard and paper products from the landfill was discussed in a public hearing. I went because I cared, and other people came because they cared, too.

People from all walks of life shared reasons for their position. There were well thought out arguments on both sides and people were respectful of people with other ideological commitments. I gained perspective on the proposal that I didn't have before, and my position morphed gradually in response to the arguments I heard.

Though there was definitely self-interest involved, most speakers seemed to share a common commitment to the community. Everyone wanted their city to continue being a place they wanted to live, whether that meant they were for or against the proposal. Everyone seemed to care about the type of society future generations would grow up in.

Most refreshingly of all, I got the impression that people (on both sides!) were there not because they were opposed to something. They were there to stand up for something they cared deeply about. They believed that their contribution could make a difference. They had hope in the process of participatory democracy to inform policy.

It gave me hope, too.