Lifting Up Community Wisdom & Vision

November 28, 2016 | Cec Ortiz, Senior Fellow |Cec Ortiz Headshot

In our series on “What Community Democracy Means to Me,” Senior Fellow Cec Ortiz shares the magic of community democracy’s democratic process and the urgency of now.


My vision of true community democracy is…

Communities have reached their full capacity and successfully exercised their power to address major challenges and opportunities facing their communities.


What does this look like?

One of the basic principles of community democracy is that members of the community who are most impacted emerge as leaders and decision makers in solving issues and problems in their community. I think the magic of this democratic process is two-fold: (1) The wisdom and insight of community is acknowledged and better yet, heard within any community process that is put in place, and (2) the basic practice of providing “space” where community creates a common vision based upon a collective decision-making process. Another way it shows up is through “truth-telling” discussions that give voice to people who struggle to be heard. Creating a path for organic leadership to surface and expand is a natural evolution that is critical to sustaining this work in the future. Trust building, which is the precursor to authentic working relationships, is always the goal if honest conversations about power (who has it and who doesn’t) are to occur. Systems, foundations and nonprofits are learning how to respond to resident-led efforts and are becoming more aware of how to be better equity partners with communities. I have been in this “space” and continue to be amazed at its power to transform lives and communities. Can’t say it’s been easy but it works!


What brought me to Community Democracy Workshop?

My life’s work has been and continues to focus on community building. My mother who understood the value of strong communities was my first and greatest mentor. That led me to work in community, where I was fortunate to learn from the best – those community leaders who were incredibly patient, generous and kind. I want to continue to give back, hopefully by offering my experience and knowledge to help CDW influence and advance the work of community change and social justice in this country.


What’s a big challenge I face in my work and what tools and practices have helped me along the way?

Supporting community leaders and activists create support networks and find resources for self-care that keeps them healthy and invigorated in their own lives.

This work can take a toll on people on the ‘front lines’. Time is not our friend. Many of the leaders have jobs, children and/or parents that they care for at home. I believe we need to bring this awareness to the community democracy table. I would love to hear what others are doing to help community leaders embed self-care practices in their lives.


Cec Ortiz is a senior fellow at Community Democracy Workshop. She is co-founder and a principal of ConfluenceDenver LLC, a consulting firm that provides community and economic development project management services for large community-based initiatives focused on Latino populations. Cec can be reached at