Multinational Monitor


Not Kosher: The Ralph Reed-Jack Abramoff Connection.
by Andrew Wheat

The United States, Bolivia, and the Political Economy of Coca
by Gretchen Gordon

The CAFTA Chronicles: Strong-Arming Central America, Mocking Democracy
by Tom Ricker and Burke Stansbury

Thais Take to the Streets to Stop U.S. Trade Agenda
by Martin Khor

Drilling East Timor: Australia's Oil Grab inthe Timor Sea
by Charles Scheiner


Saving $60 Billion: Lawrence Korb's Common Sense Budget Defense Plan
An Interview with Lawrence Korb

The Market for Virtue: The Impact of Corporate Social Responsibility
An Interview with David Vogel


Behind the Lines

The Lobby Reform Fiasco

The Front
Philippines Gets Stomped - EPA Program Off Track

The Lawrence Summers Memorial Award

Names In the News

Book Notes


Book Notes

Democracy's Edge: Choosing to Save Our
Country by Bringing Democracy to Life
By Frances Moore Lappé
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2006
471 pages; $24.95

For Frances Moore Lappé, "Democracy is more than a particular form of government. It is a way of living, an evolving culture of trust grounded in the values of inclusivity and mutuality." In her book Democracy's Edge, Lappé argues that democracy is a process - of citizen participation, community empowerment and human connection. She claims that despite the "thin" democracy perpetuated by U.S. political and economic systems, real democracy is springing up all around - in the everyday actions regular people are taking to improve their lives and the world.

Lappé begins her discussion by citing the failings of U.S. democracy.

The dominant political and economic institutions of contemporary U.S. society limit civic involvement, she contends. Prevailing beliefs hold that democratic participation is something that primarily happens on voting day, that experts are more qualified to make political decisions than the general public, and that "public involvement is a necessary evil to protect our private lives." Furthermore, elite opinion holds that in a "free trade" economy, unregulated markets will solve problems better than intentional public action.

Lappé rejects this notion that citizens are or should be powerless.

She argues that, even given current institutional arrangements, people can express power in a multitude of ways - in their public lives, community bonds and personal relationships. The individual exercise of power has profound political implications, she asserts, rippling into the surrounding community. Lappé claims that becoming conscious of this fact opens endless possibilities. Rather than allow political and economic institutions to arbitrarily limit political life, people can decide how to participate in their communities and what kind of society they want to create. Lappé contends that this exercise of political power, according to the principles of "honest dialogue, basic fairness, mutual respect, inclusivity, and reciprocal responsibilities," is the essence of real democracy.

However, Lappé insists that this is old news. Why? Because countless people all over the country are already acting upon these principles. "Out of sight of most of us," she writes, "millions of Americans are satisfying their deep needs for connection with each other and expanding their capacities for effectiveness in the larger world." For Lappé, these people constitute Democracy's Edge.

Lappé provides a plethora of ways that real democracy is seeping into all public spheres.

Lappé spends little time lamenting the overarching power of corporations in the modern era. She jumps straight into heartening stories of people who dare to contest and redefine corporate power, telling of buy-local movements, consumer boycotts, worker-run businesses, socially-conscious investing, anti-sweatshop campaigns and labor movements.

Lappé provides examples of ways in which communities are contesting dominant models of political power. She tells the story of ACORN, which started as one person going door to door with a giant pit in his stomach, then eventually blossomed into a national coalition against racism and poverty.

She also highlights citizen efforts to take back the media. Many are fighting media consolidation at the systemic level, including by lobbying the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to protect a free, democratic press, while others are working to develop alternative media. The Prometheus Radio Project, for example, is not only lobbying the FCC for change, but helping spur an international low power FM radio movement - empowering communities to create and maintain their own radio stations.

Lappé goes on to offer ways that people are pursuing alternative models of criminal justice, education, information technologies and much more. Her message is clear: real democracy is growing everywhere, and it is changing the world in which we live.

While Lappé's enthusiasm is uplifting, she raises the torch too readily. Democracy's Edge assumes that real democracy can sprout alongside anti-democratic institutions and eventually outgrow or reshape them, but it does not fully consider how entrenched these institutions are and how they react when democracy seeks to loosen their grip.

- Sarah Lazare


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