Democracy Talks

Democracy Talks is a series of events designed to illuminate the democratic process and create space for conversation. Our expert speakers grapple with the thorniest issues of our time, providing much-needed context and suggesting paths to engagement. Have a suggestion for a speaker? Let us know!

Upcoming Events

book cover for This AmericaBook Discussion: Jill Lepore's This America

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Join us for a discussion of This America: The Case for the Nation by Jill Lepore. Pick up a copy of this brief (160-page) history of nationalism and “manifesto for a better nation” at the library starting in mid-September, read it ahead of time, and bring your questions and thoughts to the group. (Please note that this is not a book club meeting, but a one-time reading and discussion program, open to all!)

Past Events

Metric Geometry & Gerrymandering Group logoBeyond the "Eyeball Test" for Political Gerrymandering

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

The Metric Geometry & Gerrymandering Group (MGGG) is a team of mathematicians, data scientists, and geographers who believe that gerrymandering of all kinds is a fundamental threat to our democracy. This talk covered the applications of computing and geometry that MGGG has developed to detect and combat gerrymandering across the United States, with a particular focus on local redistricting in Massachusetts.


raised hands by municipal buildingsThe Role of Local Government in Safeguarding Human Rights

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

A panel of representatives from Human Rights Commissions in Lexington, Belmont, and Melrose spoke about their purpose, process, and progress. Co-presented by Watertown Citizens for Black Lives.


speaker Mishy LesserThe View from the Shore

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Dr. Mishy Lesser, learning director of Upstander Project, shared what she has learned while conducting research for the award-winning film Dawnland and its accompanying teacher’s guide


Andras Riedlmayer

Killing Memory: The Destruction and Resurrection of Libraries and Cultural Heritage

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

A special One Book, One Watertown installment of Democracy Talks presented by Andras Riedlmayer, director of the Documentation Center for Islamic Architecture at Harvard's Fine Arts Library, who documented the destruction of cultural heritage in Bosnia and Kosovo during the 1990s.


Bil Lewis as President MadisonJames Madison and the Coming of Age of the U.S.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

During this President’s Day Week, President James Madison spoke firsthand about his experiences during the establishment of our country. Bil Lewis, a computer scientist, returned Peace Corps Volunteer, past District Governor for Toast Masters, small businessman, and Eagle Scout, portrayed President Madison.


speaker Kerri GreenidgeThe African American Trail Project

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

The African American Trail Project is an organizational network and community-based archive that maps African American and African-descended public history sites across greater Boston. Historian Kerri Greenidge introduced the project, which is housed at the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at Tufts. 


A Seat at the Table exhibit logo

A Seat at the Table

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Edward M. Kennedy Institute staff members Elaine Mondy, Amy Munslow, and Sarah Yezzi described the Institute's A Seat at the Table project, inspired by Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm. After the presentation, Watertown Community Conversations led a facilitated conversation.


Inspeaker Sara Chagantiequality and Public Policy

Thursday, December 6, 2018 

Sara Chaganti discussed the role of public policy – both current and past – in driving inequality. Chaganti is a Senior Research Associate at the Institute on Assets and Social Policy, a research institute housed at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University. After the presentation, Watertown Community Conversations led a facilitated conversation.


Professor Candice Delmas

Civil and Uncivil Disobedience

Thursday, November 1, 2018  

Candice Delmas, Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Political Science at Northeastern University, discussed the standard template for civil disobedience, the demands and limits of civility, and the potential value of uncivil disobedience. Delmas's book, A Duty to Resist: When Disobedience Should Be Uncivil, was published by Oxford University Press in September 2018.


Anne Benaquist, citizenship instructorWhat Does It Take to Become a U.S. Citizen?

Tuesday, September 18, 2018 

Project Literacy citizenship instructor Anne Benaquist and a panel of new Americans explained the process of - and reasons behind - becoming a citizen of the U.S.


Portrait of Jennifer Van Campen, smiling with light eyes and blonde hair and a pink shirtDefining, Developing, and Legislating "Fair" Housing

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Jennifer Van Campen, Executive Director of Metro West Collaborative Development, used examples from our own local communities to illustrate historical and current practices that thwart fair housing. 


 Pouya AlimaghamDemocracy in Iran

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

In this special One Book, One Watertown edition of our ongoing series, MIT historian Pouya Alimagham provided an overview of democracy movements in modern Iran.


Rachael CobbThe Future of Voting Rights, 2018 and Beyond

Thursday, December 7, 2017

At this sixth event in our ongoing series, Professor Rachael Cobb provided an historical overview of voting rights and updated us on what’s at stake in 2018. 

Rachael Cobb, Associate Professor and Chair of the Government Department at Suffolk University, studies U.S. elections, election administration, electoral politics, civic engagement, and political participation. She established the University Pollworkers Project, a nonpartisan program designed to recruit college students to serve as poll workers in partnership with the City of Boston’s Election Department. Professor Cobb serves on the board of MassVOTE, iVote, and the Boston Election Advisory Committee, and she is a monthly contributor to the SCRUM on NPR’s Morning Edition on WGBH.


Nancy BrumbackHow to Talk So Your Legislators Will Listen

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Attendees learned the most effective ways to reach state legislators and make their voices heard in this non-partisan presentation by Nancy Brumback. At what point in the legislation process is communication from constituents most effective?  Why is it important to contact legislators when you know they agree with you?

Brumback is a director of the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts and oversees the League’s work on state legislation.


sabrinehardalanHow Immigration Law Affects Us All

Thursday, August 17, 2017

What do recent changes to immigration law and policy mean for refugees, newcomers, longtime residents, and citizens? Sabrineh Ardalan, Assistant Director of the Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program at Harvard Law School, gave an overview of the upheavals and their impact.


Keith BergmanWhat Does Climate Change Mean for Massachusetts?

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

What effects will climate change have on Massachusetts and on the northeastern states in general? What are the long-term effects of current and possible changes in legislation, government agencies, and funding? What can you can do to combat climate change and achieve sustainability? With Keith Bergman of The Climate Reality Project.


National Lawyer’s Guild LogoCivil Disobedience Workshop

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Volunteers from the National Lawyers Guild discussed how to prepare for civil disobedience actions and their legal consequences. Training topics included:

  • pre-rally concerns
  • what happens when you are arrested
  • arraignments
  • deals and depositions
  • tips for legal observers

Photo of Erin O’Brien - woman with brown hair smilingDonald Trump and the Republic

Thursday, January 19, 2017

On the eve of the presidential inauguration, UMass Boston professor Erin O'Brien, Ph.D, applied the lens of political science to the transition in our executive branch. How might President-elect Trump's plans and promises conform to our nation's core principles? What should we watch for during the inauguration, and in the weeks and months to follow?