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Democracy's Edge: Choosing to Save Our Country by Bringing Democracy to Life Hardcover – November 7, 2005
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Lappe's germinal Diet for a Small Planet (1971) introduced social activism to American kitchens by teaching readers to think globally as they cook lo-cal. Her latest 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. Although the essential ingredient of Lappe's activism remains unchanged--the power of motivated individuals to effect meaningful change--this book is more self-help book than cookbook, its recipes replaced by bullet-point lists itemizing strategies for getting out of the house and taking control of one's latent political power. Although clearly leavened by recent political developments, this account offers little political analysis that hasn't already been well covered by left-leaning commentators. Yet its concrete, if anecdotal, examples of individuals' successful efforts in their communities offer practical inspiration in a way more theoretical arguments occasionally overlook. Readers ready to get their feet wet will also find the appended material useful, particularly the regionally organized directory of advocacy groups. Brendan Driscoll
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
"There is a small number of people in every generation who are forerunners in thought, action, spirit, who swerve past the barriers of greed and power to hold a torch high for the rest of us. Frances Moore Lappé is one of those. Her writing has done that again and again. Here, in her latest work, she brings the familiar eloquency of expression, simplicity of language, poetic and passionate, to our nation’s most urgent problem, the reclaiming of democracy."
--Howard Zinn, author, A People’s History of the United States
"Make no mistake, this is a very powerful book, and its scope and vision are huge. In this century you will see the job of citizens is to keep their mouth open and their capacity to be heard in every discussion that will shape their lives. This book about finding our voices where everyone concerned about democracy, are no longer merely passive onlookers but dedicated participants Democracy’s Edge, thank God, is beautifully written. It gives us the language we need to reclaim our democracy and for seeing where our real democracy lies—in the grassroots, in the communities where creative solutions to social problems are a-plenty. Please, please, please make this audacious book a priority, for it is written with the most careful and tender feelings about what we are all so near to losing – our democracy."
--Dame Anita Roddick, founder, The Body Shop
"America is lost in a gnarled thicket of bought politicos, corporate con men and media hucksters. But we’re lucky: Lappé has drawn the map that will get us out alive. Read it and get going"
--Greg Palast, author, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy
"Our country is suffering from a serious 'democratic deficit.' a widening gulf between public opinion and public policy—and what ails America necessarily ails the world. A great many people do not like what is happening to their lives and their country, and what is being done in their name, but feel isolated and helpless, victims of forces beyond their control. With the clear thinking, plain talk, and penetrating insight that we have come to expect from her work, Frances Moore Lappé confronts these fundamental problems directly and constructively. It is both a guide to the perplexed, and a guide to action."
"Lappé is a pioneer in democratic thought and action."
--Cornel West, University Professor of Religion, Princeton University
"Extraordinary, Frances Moore Lappé, the brilliant woman who broke upon the story of global hunger with her Diet for a Small Planet, has now burst forth with a provocative and exciting new approach to reviving democracy. She reminds us that a robust and wholesome democracy is what delivers a good life to a nation’s citizenry. Her challenge to us is to reinvigorate our thinking, to take individual actions, and to participate every day as citizens. She offers hope for those of us who believe that civic society is at the root of a health government."
--Amy Domini, founder and CEO, Domini Social Investments
"Frances Moore Lappé believes deeply that true democracy is more than simply as set of institutions or a political system. It is the active engagement and voice of ordinary citizens in the decisions that shape their lives and communities. Democracy’s Edge is an exciting and hopeful account of the rebirth of a living American democracy as people connect with each other around the country to solve problems and build a better society. An important part of that rebirth is a new and growing movement by people of faith who are putting their faith into action for the common good."
--Jim Wallis, author, Gods Politics and editor, Call to Renewal
"I am invigorated by this book. Lappé’s idea of drawing the corporation into democracy’s fold is a challenge I hope all of us will take up as our own. There is no more important task for us to embrace today."
--Marjorie Kelly, editor, Business Ethics, and author, The Divine Right of Capital
"With an abundance of inspiring, well-told stories, Lappé sweeps the disempowering myth that an individual can’t make a difference and demonstrates that democracy is a living practice. Essential reading for all who believe that democracy in America would be a good idea."
--David C. Korten, board chair, YES! A Journal of Positive Futures
"Frankie Lappé has a gift for synthesizing complex ideas into accessible and inspiring simplicity. Living Democracy is an excellent primer on what our democracy was intended to be, where it went astray, and what needs to happen (and is in fact already happening below the radar of mainstream media) for democracy to come alive. Read, take hope and take action!"
--Nina Utne, chair, Utne Magazine
Top customer reviews
This is a delightful, thoughtful read that is totally transpartisan in spirit, and joins other books like Escaping the Matrix and Society's Breakthrough in setting the stage for a non-violent restoration of We the People as the working owners of the Republic.
The author distinguishes between thin and living democracy, points out that democracy is a process, and you must live it or lose it. The two appendices are superb, one on competing frames (one page) and one on restoring the meaning of language for democracy (3 pages). I recommend taking a look at them before reading the book itself.
I have a note in my margin, "Lappe for President." Seriously. Lappe, not Hillary Clinton, and certainly not Condi Rice, is precisely the kind of Epoch B leader we need right now, someone who can energize Wisdom Councils at every level, and convene Global Intelligence Councils and Global Policy Councils on the ten threats, twelve policies, and eight players other than the EU and the US (see my comment for a URL).
I absolutely agree with her that poverty is caused by a lack of democracy. Dictators and Wall Street have created a class war in which the few are looting the natural resources of the many, and it is time we put a stop to that, to include disbanding the World Bank, the IMF, and the World Trade Organization.
She says that voice is the heart of democracy, and that a culture of connection is now being woven (see Blessed Unrest, Tao of Democracy, and Society's Breakthrough).
She says that the split is not between left and right, but rather between those who believe in democracy and We the People, and those that do not (see George Orwell's Animal Farm--we are all being harvested for profit by a handful).
In the author's view, the crisis is our feeling of helplessness, and the solution is to widen the circle of problem solvers. Well, Joe Trippi is going to bring us the "Big Bat" to channel $500M a year into the Transpartisan Peoples' Trust, and Reuniting America will join with the World Index of Social and Environmental Responsibility (WISER) to connect all of the people all of the time.
There is such a wealth of gifted insight in this book that I do not want to list all the points that made it to my fly-leaf. BUT THIS BOOK. Discuss it with friends. Send this review to everyone you wish to engage in this national conversation.
There is a breathtaking graphic on page 33 in which she lists the seven main areas affecting our public life, and then lists specific individual roles of the citizen in each of these, which I depict by the number in parenthesis:
Economic Life (9 roles)
Media (3 roles, but she neglected to mention citizen journalist)
Education (6 roles)
Cultural (9 roles)
Civic life (7 roles)
Human and Health Care Services (6 roles)
Religious Life (3 roles)
True power, good power, is our multiple relationships to one another. We can get rid of money TOMORROW and shift to localized currencies and Internet barter points. Governments should not be going into debt to banks, they should nationalize them!
She destroys the four prevailing myths:
1) that we only need two parties
2) that we cannot limit private money in politics
3) that we must not tamper with the "free" market
4) that corporations are only responsible for short-term bottom line
See my varied lists, especially on Natural Capitalism and on Democracy, for more recommended readings that strongly support her concise views.
She lists eight corporate crimes:
1) Enrichment through manipulated public giveaways
2) Tax avoidance
3) Global Warming (we have to pay)
4) Hazardous Waste (we have to pay)
5) Profits retained by the managers, worker's salaries do not increase
6) Concentration killing our health industry (and agriculture and energy)
7) Low corporate wages force us to pay benefits--Wal-Mart costs us $2.5 billion a year because their employees are so badly paid they qualify for public benefits! This is NUTS!
8) Campaign to eradicate unions leaves workers without voice or protection
I am quite pleased to learn from this author that townships are passing laws abolishing corporate citizenship. This needs to be a nation-wide finding.
Pension fund managers are one key to victory over corporations.
SA8000 sets global standards for fair labor conditions. We need to enforce it with our purchases.
Expectations and fairness matter. COSTCO pays its employees more, and gives them good benefits, yet applies only 7% of its budget to labor. Wal-Mart treats them like slaves, and applies 12% because of turn-over.
Part III has chapters on attention, action, choice, and voice, and focuses on the need to create localized economies with local currencies, community banking, and 100% worker ownership. That, in my view, is precisely where we are headed.
She lists 11 sources of citizen power, credited to the Industrial Areas Foundation:
4) Tapping passion
6) Disciplined preparation
7) Actions and intentional tension (helps reframing)
11) Reflection and evaluation
She lists five ways we are robbed of choice by corporations, and ten losses we suffer from corporations. She reminds us that Thomas Jefferson was very concerned in the 1790's about commercial monopolies, and concludes, correctly, that corporations have more power and as much secrecy as the Communist Party in China and Russia.
She presents loss of voice facts on pages 222-224, addresses the need for democratic software and low-cost Internet access for all (good-bye, Microsoft, unless everyone can get mobile Windows for a dollar a month.
She concludes with chapters on learning, security, and reframing.
This book is magical in its common sense and imminent applicability.
Top Ten Transpartisan Books Other Than This One:
Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming
Escaping the Matrix: How We the People can change the world
Society's Breakthrough!: Releasing Essential Wisdom and Virtue in All the People
All Rise: Somebodies, Nobodies, and the Politics of Dignity (Bk Currents)
The Tao of Democracy: Using Co-Intelligence to Create a World That Works for All
Where Have All the Leaders Gone?
A House Divided
The Nine Nations of North America
Who Will Tell The People? : The Betrayal Of American Democracy
The Soul of Capitalism: Opening Paths to a Moral Economy
For me, the book had the same very warm feeling about it that seemed to have been shared by others, and yet also for me, among all of the sage and practical advice, there was something about it that simply did not ring true, and even disturbed me. Respectfully, I found Ms. Lappe's clichéd foundation assumption about the endless goodness of the American people (the Rodney King anthem, now adopted as Mr. Obama's campaign song: "why can't we all just get along.") a bit facile, tiring, politically naïve and frankly wrong. And to use Dr. Phil's mantra: You can't fix what you don't acknowledge," (no matter how well meaning your ideas or how high-minded your spirit, may be). The idea that Americans always put "ends" over "means" simply does not square with the history of this country. Moreover, there are several very good recent books that will back me up on this. Just to name two that come immediately to mind, I mention in passing, Drew Westen's "The Political Brain," and Morris Berman's "Dark Ages in America" (both of which I have reviewed here on Amazon.com). These men are as concerned about America's political mental health as I am, and as is Ms. Lappe. And thus, this undue reliance on, and unchallenged reverence for, the endless "goodness of the American people" belies the stark reality of American politics.
At a minimum American politics is a "blood sport;" and at most, it is "all out class and racial warfare." In fact, if you do not come up off the ground spitting up blood or missing teeth, you have not been paying attention, or can't really proved that you were in the game in the first place. Put simply, it is time for us adults to get serious about what kind of country we have shaped and about what kind of democracy has evolved as a result of our very checkered history. I am a black man, but I am not making any special pleading for black people when I invoke the idea of race or racism in American politics, I am simply pointing to a reality that exists at a different level of analysis than that to which Ms. Lappe is appealing to, and viewing the American political process through a slightly different prism. The fact that she failed to mention race at all, makes me wonder what universe of politics she is really operating in?
Ms. Lappe seems to think "America's problem" is at the organizational level, one of apathy, lack of interest, lack of motivation, a need for grassroots reorganization, and she is right: But does she not realize that there is so little activity at the grass roots level because people have seen this movie so many times before they have simply finally lost faith? The disease is thus in the bloodstream, in the undercurrents, in the psyche, not on the surface. The time for quick fixes has long since been over.
The problem lies elsewhere at the level of the nation's DNA. Unless I have not been paying attention, the root cause of the "American disease" is sublimated racial hatred. It is not just idle speculation that I believe that this is the phenomenon that is in the driver's seat of all of the mean spiritedness and that is giving the political demagogues a free hand to shape our democracy into what "they think we want it to become."
As a result, all of the energy has been sapped right out of the American bloodstream by the whipsaw of demagogic politics, which has been used like a "meat cleaver" to cleanly separate "means" from "ends," slicing and dicing us like a Thanksgiving turkey into neat piles of black and white meat. To Ms. Lappe, I respectfully submit that this is a more realistic alternative picture of what the insides of the American political mind look like than the rosy one she offers here. And yet, it is not her problem, or even the demagogue's problem, for they are both just trying to pick the low hanging fruit. It is a disease that exists in, and thus must first be fixed in, the American soul.
Ms. Lappe seems to have forgotten that arguably, "to be American," by definition means to be able to passively enjoy the permanent advantages of whiteness, and little more. For the rest of us all the talk about "democracy" means "pretending" that bye-and-bye, things will get better and taking "tokenism" for the new democratic reality. For black people, bye-and-bye has come and gone several times. And now, even for white people, especially for poor white people, the continued demagogic whiplash that frames American politics, has become just a little too much, and a little too stale: The game of: "The ends are to hold what we've got;" the means: are "by any means necessary," has simply gone too far. Grassroots efforts simply cannot overpower such a twisted process and thus ceases to make sense in that kind of political environment.
The point is that as soon as a grassroots group becomes viable enough to make waves, or achieves a seat at the table, or presses for "real democracy," as Mr. Obama's group in the Algeld Housing Projects in South Chicago tried to do (while he was a community organizer), the rules of the game are then changed.
Mr. Obama is not the only one who failed at this level of analysis, and now has moved up to another level. (Let us see how he will do there?) The same has happened with the 1954 Supreme Court Decision on school integration, with Affirmative Action, with small business loans, and with the EEOC, etc, etc, ad infinitum.
Thus the reality of American politics does not lie in its rhetoric, or in generating warm feelings, but in the nation's cold-blooded processes and the way those processes have been shaped to repeatedly defeat just the kind of grassroots actions that Ms. Lappe suggests here. Maybe America is not interested in "real" change?
To end, I have a new axiom for Ms. Lappe's consideration, which I challenge her to disprove : In American politics, tokenism is tolerated, because it gives the impression and a warm feeling that our democracy is still working, but with everything beyond tokenism, all bets are off: "Means" then justify the "ends." Period.
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In Frances Moore Lappe's Democracy's Edge, she challenges every one of us to move beyond inertia and complaints...Read more