Dickie Bellringer and Mark Potts at South Wilts Grammar School

SALIBURY Democracy Café spent the day at South Wilts Grammar School on Friday 20 October as part of the joint Citizenship Conference with Bishop Wordsworth School.

 Firstly, I would like to thank students Amy, Martin and Ailsa who helped us during the day, played a major role in the deliberations and made us feel so welcome.

 I can only say that myself and fellow facilitator Mark Potts came away exhilarated and buzzing with the depth and breadth of engagement of the students during the deliberation of three challenging subjects.

As with the regular Democracy Café (the next will be held in Salisbury Arts Centre on 11 November between 10am and noon), the topics to be discussed were democratically chosen by the students in each of the hour-long sessions – and they were all challenging.

The first group chose the question: Should we update the law on abortion?

Again, as with the regular café the students were asked to listen respectfully to what people had to say but also challenge underlying assumptions and emotions.

It’s impossible to give a full account of the level of dialogue that emerged on this one but we did ask whether the slogans ‘Pro-Choice’ and ‘Pro-Life’ had the effect of polarizing opinions and papering over the complexity of the subject.

And while, I think, there was an acknowledgement that this was the case, some students thought the slogans were important because they made people’s positions clear.  We also discussed whether the foetus had a right to life but this quickly changed to the view that quality of life was more important.

The second group wanted to deliberate on whether or not we should legalize recreational drugs, which almost immediately started tackling the definition of a recreational drug.  This was particularly important in relation to the cultural acceptance of alcohol.

But we also talked about whether the criminalization of drugs drove it underground and made it more dangerous for users. And there was some discussion as to whether the question fitted into the wider narrative of the distinction between libertarianism – which often claims that people should be allowed to do whatever they like as long as they don’t harm anyone else – and the more communitarian view that people sometimes needed to be protected by law from themselves because they were not completely free.

The day ended with another tough question: Should euthanasia be legalised? We quite quickly established a working definition of euthanasia – that death is brought about by a third person in the interests of the person who is to die; but a thicket of problems was teased out including the fear that pressure might be placed on that person to be euthanised, particularly if they were old or ill and felt they were a burden on their family and/or society.

What was very interesting to me was that the students believed that euthanasia, if it were to be morally acceptable at all, was more acceptable than assisted suicide.

We did not come to any conclusions because, with the Democracy Café, there is no pressure to do so, but I hope that we all came to a deeper understanding of the issues and that more questions were raised for further thought.


Dickie Bellringer