more than three decades, social activist Frances Moore Lappé has been on a
quest for solutions to global problems, from poverty and hunger to political
and corporate corruption. Lappé's most recent book, Getting a Grip
makes the case that democracy can be an important tool for solving such
problems – and bringing about much-needed reform.
The scarcity of resources is considered a major cause of many
of the problems facing people around the globe. But that argument doesn't seem
convincing to social activist and author Frances Moore Lappé.
have to confront this myth of scarcity in order to create a world that we all
want," she says.
to Lappé, problems like hunger, poverty, environmental pollution and political
corruption occur because people do not share responsibility and
accountability. That shared social investment, she says, is the essence of
democracy, even more than holding elections.
understand that just having the right structure in place – say elections,
multiple parties, and a market economy – does not itself guarantee
democracy." she explains. "Democracy is the voice of people really
shaping their own future, shaping the policies that create our world."
her latest book, Getting A Grip: Clarity, Creativity and Courage in a World
Gone Mad, Lappé says democracy is a practice that can be learned.
what I talk about in Getting A Grip is the shift from democracy as
simply a structure that we inherit, that requires very little of us – maybe
voting, and that's not even required, and shopping, participating in the
economy – that that's not enough," she says. "Actually human beings
are hard-wired to enjoy being in a community and contributing to a community
and carrying responsibility. In fact, the root meaning of the word 'community'
is the sharing of duties."
her book, Lappé outlines what she calls "the 10 arts of democracy."
They include the arts of listening, negotiation, political imagination, public
judgment and mentoring. Among them also is the art of creative conflict, which
means the ability to negotiate differences.
together with different points of view is the essence of democracy," she
says. "Totalitarianism is when differences are not recognized and
appreciated. So, a key art of democracy is recognizing that conflict is
inevitable and good, because that means that different points of view are being
expressed. And when diverse views come together, you get better, much better
solutions than a top-down imposition of just the most powerful view.
essential for society to train individuals early on to master these arts, Lappé
says. Her organization, The Small Planet Institute, is helping translate these
principles into reality in thousands of U.S. schools.
people are actually being trained in one key art of democracy in their
schools. It's called mediation,"
she says. "They are trained to
mediate differences among their peers so that you don't have to just run to the
authority figure, the teacher, to solve the problem."
calls this "democracy for the very young."
says organizations also can create a work environment that encourages
a small social benefit organization like mine – The Small Planet Institute – on
up to national governments and the UN, the key is how you empower the best in
individuals so that they feel they have a voice," she says. "And
often it comes to very simple and yet empowering cultural practices that any organization
can do. At the end of every meeting, you ask everyone to share, to feel that
their views count."
When the whole society embraces a democratic culture, Lappé says,
people will be able to identify their own problems and find the solutions.
a great admirer of what they are doing in the Indian State of Kerala, because
it's very much based on this idea of democracy as something we engage in not
just vote people to do to us or for us," she says. "They just had, a
few years ago, a massive literacy campaign where it was very much people
teaching their neighbors literacy and engaging people in planning, and
especially women, bringing women in, in setting goals for the communities for
healthcare and jobs, based on the interests of people."
says she also admires the Scandinavian countries where higher levels of
political participation have led to a greater sense of well-being.
may note that the Scandinavian country Denmark is the highest-ranking in the
world by happiness," she says. "You might think that is an unusual
way to measure success, but of course this is the ultimate way to measure 'are
we satisfied with our lives?"
Frances Moore Lappé says democracy is a journey that has no
end. It evolves and gets more exciting as more people join in. Taking that
journey, she says, is the only way the people of this planet will solve their
problems and create the life they all desire.