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Democracy's Edge: Choosing to Save Our Country by Bringing Democracy to Life

In Democracy's Edge, Lappé challenges citizens to nourish democracy itself by rejecting the “thin democracy” of private interests and concentrated power in favor of “living democracy” fueled by engaged communities pursuing social justice in the public interest. Lappé emphasizes the power of motivated individuals to effect meaningful change, and provides strategies for getting out of the house and taking control of one's latent political power. Readers ready to get their feet wet will also find the appended material useful, particularly the regionally organized directory of advocacy groups.

From the Democracy's Edge website:

Fed up with hand-wringing and name calling? Democracy’s Edge is about hope – not sappy, wishful thinking but honest hope growing from a grasp of root causes.

We are living in an extraordinary historical moment, says Lappé, one in which anti-democratic forces seem to be ascending while at the same time — invisible to most of us — a powerful current is stirring that may well take us to democracy’s next historical stage. Imagine, she calls out to readers, you can be part of that.

Democracy’s Edge casts aside the gloomy view that Americans are hopelessly divided, left vs. right and secular vs. religious; it uncovers shared sentiments and common democratic innovation breaking through all these supposed barriers.

With shocking facts and surprising stories, each chapter captures the crisis of accelerating concentration as well as the excitement of citizens finding their voices — not just to protest but to innovate and bring to life a stronger democracy.

Here you’ll meet Americans discovering that living democracy isn’t a dreary duty; it is the essence of the good life.

Part I: Living on the Edge argues that democracy is strong, not weak; we need more, not less. I confront the current assault on democratic values and identify changes in contemporary culture that make possible the emergence of “living democracy.” Living democracy is the evolving practice of citizens reframing democracy’s meaning – from something done to us or for us to democracy as an engaging, life-enhancing, everyday practice. Growing numbers of Americans recognize that today’s problems are too pervasive, deep and complex to be solved by experts from above. So they are rethinking power, self-interest, and public life to put themselves at the center of problem solving. Principles of inclusivity, transparency, and mutual accountability, they show us, work not just in political life but in economic and cultural life as well.

Part II: Democracy Growing Up builds on Thomas Jefferson’s insight that no generation should be constrained by the institutions of its “barbarous ancestors” but should shape new rules for new realities. I take on four constraining political and economic assumptions that lock us in continuing decline and show how each is not as rigid as it appears. I zero in on the corporation, the “elephant in the living room” that seems to take up ever more space. I de-mystify corporate power by showing that it flows from five forces that are each in flux because gutsy citizens are working to draw the corporation within the democratic fold.

Part III: Democracy as a Verb offers stories of democracy coming to life in everyday economics (from fair trade to worker ownership), politics (from “fusion voting” to clean-election reforms), food & farming (from community supported agriculture to farm-to-school programs) and the media (from low-power radio and microcinema to citizens standing up to the FCC).

Part IV: Democracy in Our Bones explores how in our schools and community ties we cultivate democracy’s habits of heart as well as its “arts.” Using the experience of highly effective, democratic public schools, I argue that effective education and educating for democracy are one and the same. A chapter on security suggests that the humiliation of deepening poverty and the incarceration/punishment syndrome generate America’s extraordinarily high rates of violence. Yet here, too, a sea change is underway.

Democracy’s Edge ends by asking us to attend to framing language and images, including specific suggestions that communicate and spread Living Democracy. I also call us to cultivate “bold humility” – to know that we cannot know what’s possible and yet to engage fully in this rich historical moment. We can expand our hearts to hold two seeming opposites: the evident decline and the also visible – if we look – signs of life-enhancing shifts that cut all the way through to address the causal patterns creating unnecessary misery.

Frances Moore Lappé

Jossey-Bass (2006)

Resource Link: www.democracysedge.org

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