[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. – bev]
On April 29, 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote a missive to Congress on the importance of curbing corporate monopolies that resonates as much today as it did in the wake of the Great Depression:
…the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself.
Boy, does that ever hit home.
In Getting A Grip 2, Frances Moore Lappe takes that lesson and hits hard at its core: to build a stronger more cohesive society with a firm foundation in democracy for all, not just a privileged few, you have to work at it. We all have to work at it. Preferably together.
As Frances herself said in a 2007 PBS interview:
Human beings were never meant to be couch potatoes or just whiners. We wouldn’t have made it to where we are…if we weren’t doers and problem solvers. So, that’s what I mean by living democracy, something not done to us or for us, democracy not as what we have but what we do. (emphasis mine)
But along that road to a living democracy, there are an awful lot of speed bumps.
Frances talks about a number of them in the book. What is great is that she not only talks about problems, but gives inspiring examples of how ordinary folks stepped up and made things better. For instance:
— How everyday folks worldwide have tackled hunger, poverty and despair from the micro-lending of Muhammad Yunus to the life skills training of Youthbuild (which happens to be teaching construction skills to some “at risk” local youths who are working on a Habitat for Humanity house in my neighborhood);
— How a Maine man saw the need for better corporate standards, including a great discussion of “producer responsibility” laws, regarding greener disposal of electronic “trash”, a concept that has since gone global;
— How our individual shopping choices can, collectively, make an enormous difference in how business is done, from examples of changing policies at Home Depot through some concentrated, targeted action to the very real impact of Fair Trade on the lives of workers and farmers across the globe;
— And, one of my favorite examples, how a single mom/waitress ran for public office after Clean Election laws were passed, and what the impact has been of those laws on the pay-to-play political influence peddling business. (See the video below for some inspiration on this.) Passing that legislation took an enormous amount of work in the face of a lot of “it’ll never pass” in Maine, Arizona and Connecticut.
The lesson from all of this? When you see a problem, don’t just bemoan it. Don’t just blame an amorphous “them,” without also looking at what you should be doing, too.
We should all step up to the plate and help to break down the problems we see, and rebuild them into something better.
The problem with this hopeful note, though?
We don’t always get an opportunity to see the full picture. Especially not in a world where media concentration has meant that far too often the message and information behind it is tightly controlled, and where “sunshine in government” gets buried under far too many “top secret” and “none of your business” back door meetings.
One of the most fascinating insights that Frances shares in Getting a Grip 2 is the means by which we are all hardwired to respond to each other: in essence, we are what we see others doing, believing and saying.
Think about that for a moment.
And then think about what that means in an age where we only get partial truths in the media, too often gleaned from partisan political blast faxes with dubious factual bases; where we have divided into political tribes, so to speak, and only get exposure to like-minded, self-reinforcing conversations; and where we build more and more gates and insulate ourselves from less and less personal, face-to-face contact.
The answers? Again, we have to find ways to step up to the plate, to break the walls down and rebuild new ones on common ground where we can find it.
That takes a lot of work but, as Frances argues, that is exactly what living democracy requires of all of us.
I believe that her greatest achievement is the hope that she’s inspired in everyday people that there are simple things that they can do in their lives that can change the world.
It is a profound truth: even one tiny drop of rain raises the sea. What I hope this discussion will do is to stimulate a deluge.
With that, I am honored to welcome Frances Moore Lappe and open the floor for discussion.