The first meeting of our newly re-established group was on December 12, at Carol and Steve’s.
Our emphasis is on what we think democracy should look like in light of the possibility that it is in trouble in today’s world. Governments and leaders have come and gone throughout history, but the US was the first nation to clarify — through its Declaration of Independence and Constitution — a vision of what democracy can be in the long term. That vision continues to evolve, but a clear sense of where we are going is essential to know whether we are moving in the right direction. Thus, we will commit ourselves to clarifying that vision while keeping a focus on current developments in the US and throughout the world.
We discussed the current populism trend — of the right and left — in the Western world, particularly in the recent US election. Steve mentioned the last sentence of his book, The Future of Democracy: “Start the conversation.” We then saw a video (watch it here) of Van Jones doing just that — having a conversation with Trump supporters on his CNN program, The Messy Truth. He interviewed an Ohio family of long-term union members and supporters of the Democratic Party — including supporting Obama — up until this election. All of the males — father and three sons — voted for Trump this time based on their stagnant financial situation. They were willing to overlook all of the distasteful things Trump said and focus on a hope that he would follow through with his promise to restore jobs. They believed that Hillary ignored them.
This ties in with the concern of Robert Reich, Thomas Piketty, and other economists that the middle class is falling continually further behind. The mother of this family found both candidates so distasteful that she voted for all Democrats on the ticket, except for president, which she left blank. This may be why voter turnout was low this year. Whether right or wrong, there is a strong backlash among many voters to those in power for not having kept their promises to those who feel they are falling behind. The perception among many regarding immigrants is: “They’re taking our jobs.”
We discussed that people — and voters — often act in ways that seem irrational or against their best interests, which led to the distrust of democracy by Plato and Aristotle, and was documented by Thomas Frank in What’s the Matter with Kansas. To quote James Madison: “In all very numerous assemblies passion never fails to wrest the scepter from reason.”
A number of us agreed that honest engagement and recognition of others and their world views is the best way to start a conversation that might begin to bridge the gap that is leading to much of the divisiveness in our country and world. Clarifying our essential values in interactions with others has the potential to move us toward shared intentionality and actions.
We decided that future meetings will focus on solutions as well as ideas, and agreed that we would consider at least one book each month that provides insight into the current troublesome state of world affairs. For our next meeting, January 9, we will focus on The Populist Explosion by John Judis. Participants are encouraged to get a copy, but Steve will provide key quotes as usual. Please let us know if you will be attending so that we can be sure to plan an appropriate meeting space.
Future groups will focus on readings on the immigrant crisis, education, the environment, and a multitude of topics that currently affect our world.
Organizations that were mentioned by participants that they support included The Environmental Defense Fund, Sierra Club, Southern Poverty Law Center, ACLU, Planned Parenthood, Moveon.org, and Center for Constitutional Rights.
Carol shared two articles that also can be found online:
Our group is based on Steve’s book, The Future of Democracy.
From the cover:
What is democracy and where did it come from? Is it a new development or was it always present in human society? And perhaps the most important question of all: what can we do to preserve and strengthen democracy among the forces that oppose it?
In this book we explore trends throughout history that have brought democratic — and undemocratic — government to people wherever civilization exits. We discuss where democracy has been most, and least, successful and why. But our most important task is to clarify what each of us can do, as politicians or ordinary citizens, to bring the benefits of democracy more fully into the personal and political lives of those who cherish it.
The Future of Democracy can be ordered wherever books are sold.
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Have a great holiday!
Steve Zolno is the author of the book The Future of Democracy and two related titles. He graduated from Shimer College with a Bachelors Degree in Social Sciences and holds a Masters in Educational Psychology from Sonoma State University. He is a Management and Educational Consultant in the San Francisco Bay Area and has been conducting seminars on democracy since 2006.