About Us

“Politics ought to be the part-time profession of every citizen who would protect the rights and privileges of free men.” - Dwight D. Eisenhower

Let's Talk Democracy, formerly It's Who We Are (IWWA), is a Queens-based, grass roots, non-partisan organization started by a group of Forest Hills residents to provide an understanding of civics and to empower citizens through knowledge and dialogue.  It is our hope that this will make us more active and effective citizens, create constructive dialogue in our deeply divided society and serve to chip away at the 50% non-voter rate. 



Let’s Talk Democracy is dedicated to educating people about our government, encouraging dialogue about the basic foundations of our democracy, and empowering citizens of Forest Hills, Queens and beyond to make their voices heard.  We provide classes, seminars, and discussion forums in the belief that informed knowledgeable residents emerge energized to actively participate in the democratic process. 



Let’s Talk Democracy will be a local resource where individuals and grass roots groups can:

1) learn about issues affecting their lives and how to engage with government to address them

2) forge alliances with partners

3) be catalysts for change



Co-Directors                                         Ida Messana, Mairead O'Grady
Program Development and Outreach       Michele Burger
Secretary/Treasurer and Fundraising       Rachel Makleff
Marketing & Communications                 Michelle Aragón


Janet Gillepsie

Lisa Reiner

Patti Sirulnick

Michael Slater


Let's Talk Democracy, originally called It's Who We Are (IWWA), came about in response to a visceral reaction to the 2016 presidential election by founder Dr. Ida Messana, a primary care physician in Queens, and her patients who were even experiencing  physical symptoms. As part of a very diverse borough, people felt threatened and vulnerable for all sorts of reasons. Additionally, conversations, or better said the inability to have civil conversations about political issues with friends and family, reinforced Dr. Messana's belief that something needed to be done. Rather than treat with medications, she invited her patients to come up with something constructive to focus this angst. That was the start of "It’s Who We Are."
Several meetings and discussions led to the realization that being well-informed was critical to productive conversations and that organizing free civics classes would best serve that purpose. Since most people have not studied the bedrock institutions of our country in many years, if ever,  most of us don't have a deep understanding of government and our political systems. We believed that classes would help the community learn both how the system works and how we can assert our own power to make government responsive to the people.  
We approached the Queens Library with this idea and immediately found a generous and willing partner - they also believe that putting “citizenship” classes within the reach of the average citizen would empower the general public with needed information and that participants could discover common ground for the common good.  We then joined forces with the Taft Institute for Government at Queens College, an experienced and knowledgeable organization enthusiastic about our vision. As we organized around this project, the League of Women Voters, as well as numerous local institutions and organizations aligned with us as well.
The founding group coordinated a 7-week civics workshop titled TOWARD A MORE PERFECT UNION: MAKING YOUR VOICE HEARD, led by Queens College Professor Michael Krasner and held in the Fall of 2017 at the Queens Library of Forest Hills. It closed with an advocacy fair of invited local civics groups and advocacy organizations.  
Fueled by the workshop's success, the group strengthened it's position with the new name, Let's Talk Democracy, which better reflected it's purpose and function.  The organization has mobilized others in the community and continues moving forward with a coordinated effort to educate citizens and provide a forum for ongoing dialogue through monthly Let's Talk Forums and yearly civics workshops in Forest Hills, Queens and now in Manahattan. 


Building on the the success of our Queens events and the ever-growing interest to better understand how our democracy works, Let's Talk Democracy has expanded to Manhattan. Spear-headed by one of our steering committee members, Michele Burger, Let’s Talk Democracy-Manhattan is similarly dedicated to bringing information to local communities and providing a forum for voices to be heard. Since 2018 we have offered events at several libraries across the Lower East Side, including Seward Park, Tompkins Square and currently Hamilton Fish Park. In the months ahead we will be expanding to other library branches as well as other neighborhood facilities.

Let’s Talk Democracy-Manhattan continues the organization's core goal to inform citizens, in a participatory setting, about how our federal, state and city governments work.  Typically our speakers are experts in the field and elected officials.  We include current topics important to every citizen, such as New York Charter reforms and the 2020 Census.  Speakers have included Mahattant Borough President Gale Brewer, City Council Members Carlina Rivera and Helen Rosenthal, Civil Court Judge Robert Rosenthal, State Assembly Member Harvey Epstein, among others. 

Sessions are FREE and everyone is welcome. For schedule and details visit the Manhattan CALENDAR and EVENTS pages.

Blue Bubble.jpg Many Thanks to Our Supporters

  • We are deeply grateful to Queens College Professor Michael Krasner for his scholastic contributions to our first workshop series. His willingness to show up to our first session in spite of a personal injury that day is a testiment to his unfailing commitment to our cause.
  • We greatly appreciate the extraordinary support of The Taft Institute at Queens College and the help that allowed us to realize our dream.
  • We are very grateful to Queens Library for their ongoing support of our organization and to the Forest Hills branch in particular for providing a welcoming venue for our events and activities.
  • Special thanks to the NY Public Library and the Seward Park Branch for their help in our expansion to Manhattan.