Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Getting Edgy 3: Democracy

Democracy's Edge has a blurb about the author, Frances Moore Lappé, which states: "Democracy's Edge is the completion of a trilogy that began in 2002 with Hope's Edge, written with her daughter Anna Lappé. ... Second in the trilogy is You Have the Power: Choosing Courage in a Culture of Fear, written with Jeffery Perkins." I talked about Hope's Edge over my last two posts and discussed You Have the Power in my post of 8/11/08. Democracy's Edge is quite a different book from either of them.

Only Frances Moore Lappé's name appears on the cover, although the title page adds "with the assistance of Rachel Burton, Anna Lappé, and Hope Richardson". Where Hope's Edge features movements and activists from around the world, and You Have the Power focuses on ways of dealing with fear, Democracy's Edge talks about how Americans can make changes in the US. Frances Moore Lappé contrasts "thin democracy" (the current state of affairs) with what she calls "Living Democracy"--engaging more people in "dialogue and unified action". Unified action means involving people across the political spectrum, and the author thinks there is less difference on fundamental issues between 'red states' and 'blue states' than many people assume. She quotes a 2005 poll which found that Americans were "twice as likely to cite greed, materialism, and poverty as the country's most urgent moral crises", rather than issues like abortion or gay marriage. She also cites surveys that claim a similar proportion of people from 'blue states' and 'red states' (64% vs 62%) agree that "corporations wield too much power" and 90% of all Americans "think that corporations hold too much sway in Washington".

Frances Moore Lappé sees a new democratic movement emerging. She gives three reasons for this: first, "the alarm is sounding"; the news of our multiple crises is reaching more people; second, as people realize our leaders aren't going to deal with the situation (as Ms Lappé says, "their shortcomings demystify authority"), they also realize "regular people" will need to get involved; and third, "a deepening appreciation of the capacities of those at the 'bottom'", a growing realization that we are capable of more than we think. She also talks about ecology as a metaphor for this change. "Ecology teaches us that there is no single action, isolated and contained. All actions have ripples... through webs of connectedness..." She cites Fritjof Capra (see my posts of 8/23, 8/25, and 8/27): "all living systems are self-organizing networks". (Complexity strikes again!) And finally she talks about the Internet as a tool to access 'critical information'.

The book talks about many types of power: in relationships, of knowledge, in organized numbers, in humor, in discipline, in vision, and in compassion. Power can be: mutually expanding--building on the capacities of all involved; a give-and-take, two-way relationship; collaborative; dynamic, changing; derived from relationships, knowledge, (etc, as above)--rather than laws, status, force, and wealth; concerned with how decisions get made; and built over time. Ms Lappé also talks about the difference between service, selfishness, and what she refers to as 'relational self-interest'.

A section of the book is about how neither governments nor corporations are unchangeable--and gives examples of people challenging both. Another section is on economic actions (including local economies and worker ownership, and mentioning peak oil), citizen organizing (including the living wage campaign, Saul Alinsky's Industrial Areas Foundation, and ACORN), challenging the food system (including farmer's cooperatives such as Organic Valley, food co-ops, CSAs, and programs such as the Food Project in Boston--see my post of 7/24/08 as well as my last post for more on these), and taking back the media (including Guerrilla Network News, Democracy Now, low power radio, Mozilla Firefox, and movies like Blue Vinyl). The book finishes with chapters on education (featuring the Coalition of Essential Schools) and security (looking at the intersection of crime, violence, prison, shame, and community alternatives). Frances Moore Lappé ends the book by inviting the reader to get involved, to (as she puts it) walk with bold humility--and then follows with what she calls offerings: a page outlining "Two Frames for Democracy" and a couple of pages on the "Language of Democracy", ending with 44 pages of "Entry Points for Living Democracy", a resource list of organizations, websites, magazines, and newsletters she found useful.

Where Hope's Edge is about what is being done around the world, and You Have the Power is about challenging our fear to do it, Democracy's Edge is focused on what can be done in the US and gives examples of people doing it--and encourages everyone to get involved.

Quote of the day: "...hope is not an individual talent--you have it or you don't--or something one just happens to bump into. ... Hope is a project, a community project." - Frances Moore Lappé
Word (or phrase) of the day: Instrumentalism
Hero(es) of the day: Eugene Debs

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