Democracy Wall

SUNY Cortland’s ‘Democracy Wall’ Uses Chalk to Address Issues of Inequality 

Wall 8/31
Democracy Wall featured outside of Main Street SUNY Cortland at 9 Main Street, Cortland
Inscriptions by those who passed by when the wall was first posted at the end of August.

With back-to-school season in full swing, SUNY Cortland’s Institute for Civic Engagement is out to prove that meaningful chalkboard lessons aren’t limited to the classroom. 

A “democracy wall,” essentially a blackboard that invites community participation by posing questions about inequality, will be on display for the next several weeks in front of Main Street SUNY Cortland, at 9 Main St., as part of the Economic Inequality Initiative: Pathways to Opportunity in Cortland County project. 

The wall’s purpose is to facilitate a community dialogue about democracy and economic inequality, according to organizers. People walking by the 7.5-foot long blackboard are asked to write a personal response to its question in colored chalk. Recently, the question was posed: “What do we owe each other?” Responses included equality, dignity, fairness and patience. 

The democracy wall will feature different questions and it will move to different locations and events throughout the year. It previously was displayed at the 25th anniversary celebration of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) led by Access to Independence and inside the offices of Cortland County Community Action Program (CAPCO).

Wall at ATI
Democracy Wall featured at the celebration of the American Disabilities Act hosted by Cortland Access to Independence 

The Economic Inequality Initiative marks the first joint project for the American Democracy Project (ADP) and the Democracy Commitment national civic action series. SUNY Cortland, which has been involved in the ADP since its inception in 2003, is one of just 30 campuses nationwide invited to participate in the initiative. Approximately 60 people have made contributions, including community members and representatives from local agencies, as well as the College’s faculty and staff members and students. 

The initiative aims to bring together the area’s campus and community members to study the relationships that affect topics such as economic inequality, public policy, economic opportunity, social mobility and civic engagement. The project engages participants in community-based research while promoting lessons in civic learning, action and empowerment to address economic inequality issues.

Wall 9/15The wall as it appeared on September 15, displayed at Main Street SUNY Cortland 

Meetings and informative lunchtime talks are held monthly, and several events to increase community participation are planned for the future. Anyone interested in participating in the program or learning more about the democracy wall should contact Cyndi Guy, community innovation coordinator for the College’s Institute for Civic Engagement, at or 607-753-4271.