Well over 60 people showed up for newly elected State Representative Aaron Regunberg’s District 4 Community Forum at the Rochambeau Library Tuesday night. Regunberg and the helpers he had assembled for the event were pleasantly surprised by the turnout. The event had the feeling of a fresh start for District 4, which has long been represented by former House Speaker Gordon Fox until political scandal destroyed his career. Fox was not what most voters would consider to be accessible, so Regunberg’s collaborative and open style was warmly welcomed.
“I believe in ‘little d’ democracy,” said Regunberg to the assembled voters, before asking those present to suggest topics of political concern. “Education” was suggested first, then “public banking,” “violence,” “the environment” and a dozen more. The list of concerns was then consolidated and posted on large pages that were attached to the walls.
For the next 45 minutes those in attendance broke into smaller groups around the larger topics of concern to discuss possible solutions. Regunberg’s helpers moderated the discussions, and by the end a host of problems were identified and potential solutions were advanced. Regunberg intends to use the ideas generated at forums like this to guide his decisions at the State House.
This was democracy at its most participatory. Regunberg hopes to continue the dialog with his constituents and bring this format to other venues within his district, so he can get a more complete idea of the concerns of voters in all the neighborhoods he represents.
Time will tell if Aaron Regunberg can bring the kind of change he’s already brought to District 4 to the State House, where the culture can be poisonous and intransigent. But Regunberg’s experiment in “little d” democracy could prove to be a game changer in Rhode Island if more state representatives and senators were to implement it.