A People-Centered and
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Toward a Living Democracy
Frances Moore Lappé,
Small Planet Institute
and Small Planet Fund
Redefining Security for
Strong Communities and
a Safer World
Greg Speeter, National
Getting Money Out of Politics:
Putting the Public First
Bob Edgar, Common Cause
Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer,
Innovation in Government
Karen Thoreson, Alliance for
Innovation and James Svara,
Center for Urban Innovation,
Arizona State University
Bridging the Political Divide
The Bipartisan Bridge
A look at the numbers...
Likelihood that New Leaders principals in
Chicago would oversee 20+ point gains in
student proficiency scores after developing
the New Leaders for New Schools program
(to train highly effective principals) in 2000.
total campaign contributions in 2008
Amount Canada spent during the last presidential
election cycle with spending limits and donation caps.
Between 1989 and 2009, the healthcare industry gave a total of $313.8 million in campaign contributions to members of Congress.
Graduates to College
In Hocking, OH, Principal George Wood
gives his students more say in their education.
Within a decade, the percentage of graduates
going on to college climbed from 20% to 70%.
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Using Fair Elections public financing, candidates
receive a 4:1 match from the state on donations of
$100 or less, but cannot accept any larger donations.
Number of New Orleans citizens who participated
in a council to prepare a $200 million rebuilding
plan after Hurricane Katrina. 92% of the group
supported the plan.
ase re sp
elected officials solicited $5 billion
in total campaign contributions,
an average of $600,000 per hour.
In Porto Alegre, Brazil,
led to a:
Training citizenship: Citizens
should do more than just
vote and can be empowered
to take a more active role.
Participatory budgeting: One study found
there is greater transparency and
more equitable spending when
citizens have a direct voice.
During the last presidential election cycle,
While health, education and other
budgets fall short, defense spending
totaled $690 billion in 2010.
to “do what
is right” most
of the time.
of US citizens
believe that the
See fact sources in notes section starting at page 416
Percentage of Connecticut state legislators who
use the Fair Elections system voluntarily.
What is the measure of good government
We can recognize whether government is operating in its highest form by looking at the results produced. We know we’re on the right track when democracy is strengthened, and equality and opportunity touch every person. When common sense and long-term thinking are the norm, government is at its best. Propelled by shared values, good government lives in the hearts of open-minded citizens and leaders who build unity and serve the common good. A strong and effective government breathes when we get money and corrupting interests out of politics and when the spirit of collaboration is its guiding force.
to the Right
Our government is moving forward. It’s alive and unfolding across this land, growing stronger with each engaged citizen and sound decision. But there is still a need for new energy and creative ideas, a revived commitment to core principles and a return to the fundamentals.
Government is competent when all who compose
it work as trustees for the whole people…in our
seeking for economic and political progress as
a nation, we all go up, or else we all go down,
as one people.
^ Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Second Inaugural Address – 1937
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I call it “Living Democracy.” In it, democracy is no longer merely a formal government construct, but something embedded in a wide range of human relationships. So its values apply just as much in economic life or in cultural life as in political life.
Frances Moore Lappé
Small Planet Institute
and Small Planet Fund
Rest assured, Living Democracy isn’t a new fixed
ism, blueprint or utopian end-state. Rather, democracy “becomes us” in both meanings of the phrase. It requires a shift in our focus from democracy as a
thing we “have”—elections, parties and a market—
to democracy as intricate relationships of mutuality
that we create daily.
ost Americans grow up absorbing the notion that democracy
boils down to just two things—elected government and a market economy. So, all that seems expected of us is to vote and to shop.
This shift in goals and expectations of both our government’s role and of our role as citizens is already perceptible, if we look beyond our existing thin democracy to see the many facets of Living Democracy that are living, growing and changing lives. Examples are
diverse and far-reaching; grassroots groups, individuals,
conscious corporations, schools and local governments
are creating Living Democracy in their communities.
This stripped-down duo I call “thin democracy.”
While thin democracy proves itself unable to meet today’s challenges, another understanding of democracy is emerging: Democracy that is practiced as a way of life, no longer something done to us or for us but what we ourselves create. I call it “Living Democracy.” In it, democracy is no longer merely a formal government construct, but something embedded in a wide range of human relationships. So its values apply just as much in economic life or in cultural life as in political life. Put very practically, Living Democracy means infusing the power of citizens’ voices and values throughout our public relationships.
Photo courtesy David Ploenzke.
realize the root
of the crisis:
which got the
to allow the
Grassroots-led reforms for voluntary public financing,
called Clean Elections,1 have significantly purged
private wealth from elections in Maine, Arizona and
Connecticut. Removing money from politics suddenly
feels a lot more urgent to many Americans as they
work through the worst economic collapse since
the Great Depression, and they realize the root
of crisis: the financial industry’s political clout, via
political contributions and lobbying, which got the
rules changed to allow the dangerous risk-taking.
Now, a national effort, with bipartisan-supported
“Fair Elections” legislation pending in both houses of
Congress, would take us a long way to truly publicly
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to vote and to shop”
“All that seems expected of us is
A Citizens’ Democracy
Photo © 2010 David Sachs
The challenge is to leave behind the knee-jerk contempt for government and learn how to make the government our essential and powerful tool for creating the world we want.
Democracy depends on citizens shaping and
trusting government as their tool. And that starts with
exposing the misleading big-versus-small government
frame and recognizing that what really matters is whether
government is accountable to citizens. Accountable
government, setting fair standards and rules, actually
reduces the need for “big” government to clean up after
human and environmental damage. From this frame, we
can see with new eyes the cost of government action to
end poverty or to clean up our environment. We can
see that the real cost is government, not acting.
meetings over a six-month period, community members decided which community projects would be funded with the ward’s $1.3 million capital infrastructure discretionary budget.3 A study of Brazil found that, with
more citizens’ eyes on the budgeting process, there is
less graft, greater government transparency and more
equitable public spending, along with increased public
For example, look to the 1960s War on Poverty. With
it launched hugely successful programs like Head Start,
food stamps, work study, Medicare and Medicaid, which
still exist today, as well as numerous other efforts.
And during that decade, Americans cut the poverty
rate almost in half.2
Democracy Where Many Benefit As
Opposed to Just a Few
The organization aims to develop a national
infrastructure for democratic deliberation
that links decision-makers and citizens in
determining public policy.
Democracy is grounded in the notion of a “common
Citizens participate in an AmericaSpeaks meeting in Philadelphia.
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good”—an understanding that our individual well being
depends on the well being of the whole society. Businesses that close the gap between owners and workers for the common good are growing fast. Cooperatives
are one example of a democratic business organization,
where owners are also the business’ workers or users of
its services. In all their varieties—from finance to housing, farming, manufacturing and more—equitable sharing of responsibilities and benefits is a key value. Co-op membership jumped ten-fold in the last half century,
now providing 100 million jobs worldwide. That’s onefifth more jobs than multinational corporations offer, according to the International Co-operative Alliance.
The public’s engagement in democracy is more than
voting and shopping. A Living Democracy encourages
ordinary citizens to be involved in identifying, discussing
and deciding upon public policy and budgets. One way
to engage citizens is through participatory budgeting
where citizens have a direct say in the local budget.
This process of democratic decision-making has been
in place in many Brazilian cities since 1989. Ten years
later, Chicago’s 49th Ward launched the first participatory budgeting project in the US. In a series of public
The non-profit AmericaSpeaks has
been working to increase citizen
participation in democracy.
Photos courtesy Erin & Joe, flickr
Engaging Citizens in
Organic Valley was started in Wisconsin in the 1980s and is now owned by over a thousand farmers in 32 states.
Another example is the Citizens’
Jury, pioneered by the Jefferson
Center in Minnesota. This approach to collaborative
problem-solving brings one to two dozen randomly selected citizens together over several days to weigh a critical issue and come to agreement on a direction.
Hundreds of Citizens’ Juries have been convened
around the world to work toward solutions to challenges from sewage treatment to climate change.
Now, as the threats of global climate change and
world poverty become increasingly acute, more and
more people realize that restoring our planet and its
people depends on citizens reclaiming government
from private interests. The challenge is to leave behind
knee-jerk contempt for government and learn how to
make government our essential and powerful tool for
creating the world we want.
Photo courtesy Robert Eddy
The non-profit AmericaSpeaks
has been working to increase
citizen participation in democracy.
The organization aims to develop
a national infrastructure for democratic deliberation that links decision-makers and citizens in
determining public policy. Its
work has engaged more than
147,000 people in all 50 states in
large-scale citizen participation
on issues such as the redevelopment of the World Trade Center site, the rebuilding of post-Katrina
New Orleans, statewide healthcare reform in California and
the national childhood obesity
Number of Jobs Worldwide
Cooperatives provide more than
100 million jobs worldwide.
That’s about 1/5 more jobs than
multinational corporations offer.
In southern Ohio, Principal George Wood at Federal Hocking High School believes that young people learn democracy by doing it, so since the 1990s, he has gradually shared more and more authority with his students.
From political life to economic life
to education, Living Democracy
is taking shape as a set of system
values that evolve with us.
Photo credit Chris Cone Photography
administration may soon be giving companies with living
wage policies an advantage when seeking government
power in guiding
they do better
Empowering the Next Generation
are moving from “community service,” in
which adults are in charge, to “apprentice citizenship,” in which young people take ownership in hands-on
learning. Most importantly, they experience their own
power to make real, lasting improvements in their communities. From environmental restoration to improving their school food service, grade schoolers in 40 school
districts in New England are learning by becoming
community problem solvers as part of a movement led
by Maine’s KIDS Consortium.
In southern Ohio, Principal George Wood at Federal
Hocking High School believes that young people learn
democracy by doing it, so since the 1990s, he has
gradually shared more and more authority with his
students, ultimately including equal voice with teachers
in hiring faculty. Students also serve on what is called
the site-based committee, governing most aspects of
school life. As students experience power in guiding
their school, they do better academically. Within about
a decade, the percentage of graduates going on to
college climbed from 20 to 70 percent.7
Within about a decade, the percentage
of graduates going on to college
climbed from 20 to 70 percent.
Policies that benefit many are increasing as well, such
as living wage ordinances that require businesses with
public contracts to pay employees enough to live in dignity. Not only do such policies benefit the employees and
their families; they also benefit the entire community
since individuals have more disposable income to invest
in their community. More than 120 cities and counties
have adopted living wage ordinances, and the Obama
From political life to economic life to education, Living
Democracy is taking shape, not as a set system, finished once and for all, but as a set of system values that evolve with us: values of inclusion, mutual accountability
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An Idea to Strengthen Democracy
Participating in democracy could become
akin to jury duty and voting. The notion of
a “national citizens’ council” would be the
pinnacle of citizen engagement in democracy.
Similar to jury duty, members of the public
would be randomly selected and financially
compensated for ...