Saturday, February 24, 2007
Noted author Francis Moore-Lappé coming to Laxson Auditorium Tuesday
By DAN BARNETT
Chico State University's "On the Creek" lecture series will feature the author of "Diet for a Small Planet," Frances Moore-Lappé, at Laxson Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. The presentation is free but a ticket is required from the University Box Office, Second Street at Normal Avenue (898-6333).
Moore-Lappé will speak, courtesy of Chico Performances, on "Living Planet, Living Democracy: Lessons from the Citizens of the World," a subject she explores in one of her newest books, "Democracy's Edge: Choosing To Save Our Country By Bringing Democracy To Life" ($24.95 in hardcover from Jossey-Bass). This is the third book in a trilogy that includes "Hope's Edge," on which her daughter Anna collaborated, and "You Have the Power: Choosing Courage in a Culture of Fear," which was written with Jeffrey Perkins.
Though "Democracy's Edge" is a polemical work (there seem to be two kinds of Americans in the book: what Moore-Lappé calls the Far Right -- exemplified by the Bush Administration and its corporate cronies -- and everyone else), it is also intended to be a book of hope. There are stories of dozens if not hundreds of citizen groups that are making a real difference in politics, education, and workers' rights in accord with her definition of democracy.
"Living Democracy" involves "negotiating interests by relying on fair play, honest dialogue and mutual respect." It's "not just righting a particular injustice that limits people's freedom. It's changing how decisions are made." Humanity's task, says the author, "is to envision and create institutions, from our schools to our media to our businesses, that foster our democratic selves -- people able to feel and express empathy and to see through the walls of race, culture and religion that divide us, people who know how to exert power while maintaining relationship."
By contrast, what she calls "thin" democracy -- in which politicians proclaim "power to the people" but arrogate power to themselves instead -- perpetuates "four constricting measures" that limit the expansion of Living Democracy. These "misfits" include the assumption that two political parties are enough; that any real limits on campaign spending violate free speech; that "the free market brings us all prosperity"; and that "to keep generating wealth, corporations must consider only the financial bottom line." (While Moore-Lappé welcomes globalization "understood as ... communication and sharing across national borders," she rejects what she calls "global corporatism.")
"Democracy's Edge" is designed to counter each of those ingrained notions with success stories of people united by a common purpose changing how democracy is done. She spotlights the work of such organizations as the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) and the Industrial Areas Foundation (founded by "Saul Alinsky, the godfather of community organizing"). Hers is a leftist agenda, though she does not use that term, preferring instead to frame her proposals as "walking with bold humility" in reclaiming the kind of human relationships that Living Democracy ought to be about.
A chart at the end of the book invites readers to "consciously generate language that communicates what is emerging and what we want to bring into being." Her preferred term is "engaged citizen" rather than "activist." The seemingly neutral term "conventional farming" becomes "chemically dependent farming." "Liberal" becomes "progressive, democratic." She calls "pro-choice" the "pro-child movement including the right of every child to be wanted with opportunities for a full life." Finally, "taxes" are "membership dues for a strong, healthy society."
Moore-Lappé paints a provocative picture, worth the spirited public discussion it generates.
Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.