Republicans and Democrats increasingly distrust, avoid, and wish harm upon those from the opposing party. They also increasingly reside among like-minded individuals and belong to social groups that share their political beliefs. While these factors can make it difficult to express a dissenting political opinion, digital and social media have given people new spaces for political discourse and community, and more control over who knows--and does not know--their political beliefs.
In Democracy Lives in Darkness, Emily Van Duyn looks at how these changes in the political and media landscape affect democracy. Van Duyn discovers and follows a secret political organization of progressive women in a conservative community in rural Texas. Its members, a mixture of real estate agents, school teachers, business owners, and retired grandmothers, met in secret to protect themselves from social, economic, and even physical retaliation by their conservative neighbors, friends, and family. They discussed immigrant rights, women's reproductive rights, racism, and intolerance of those of different racial/ethnic and cultural backgrounds in their community. Democracy Lives in Darkness is about this group: their daily lives, their choices, and ultimately, their incubation. But it is also about what led them to meet in secret--the political prejudice and hostility that marginalizes and makes people afraid, and the growing political, social, and geographic cleavages that now make even mainstream dissent dangerous.
Importantly, Van Duyn asks why mainstream partisans feel the need to hide their political beliefs from others, why they feel afraid of those from the opposite party, how they stay politically engaged in secret, and how this can transform them and their communities. The book challenges those who study democratic life to look beyond public political behavior and those who study big data and machine learning to consider the unique and meaningful qualities of studying the individual in context. Van Duyn challenges the assumption that the United States is a liberal democracy where ideas can be expressed freely and publicly. Rather, she suggests that democracy in the United States may exist in darkness, but, more optimistically, that it uses this darkness to move forward.