Welcome Susan Clark, Woden Teachout, (SlowDemocracy.org) and Host Riki Ott (RikiOtt.com)

Slow Democracy: Rediscovering Community and Bringing Decision Making Back Home

I can’t resist starting my second book review with a story about my first book review. Recently, while standing in an hour-long U.S. Customs line at Washington Dulles, I pulled out Slow Democracy. Listening to others complain about the untenable situation as we crisscrossed back and forth, I read, holding up the book title for all to see. Finally someone said, “What is that book about?” I delivered a succinct summary, consciously using tools I had just learned to include diversity, to all within earshot. What followed was a splendid example of slow democracy.

People rallied from jetlag, shook off fatigue, spoke over wailing babies, and listened to each other share stories and experiences about an issue close to all our hearts: the democracy crisis in America. I was inspired to see in action the main contentions in Slow Democracy: i.e., people care about democracy and want to bring it back to the local level.

Slow Democracy is a book for emerging community leaders, students, and people ready to do the real work of participatory democracy––to invest personal time and energy; to learn to frame issues in ways that connect rather than polarize people; to learn ways to include and engage people in discussing and deliberating issues; to learn to draw from, not depend on, expert research, balanced with local wisdom of stories, knowledge, and experience; and to have the patience to trust that this process––democracy up close and personal––will yield practical solutions supported by most, rather than endless gridlock manipulated by the few who profit from the status quo.

Authors Susan Clark and Woden Teachout bring in surveys and studies to validate the chasm between national and local politics, the chasm that is bending the extremes of Tea Party and Occupy together. Americans’ overwhelming disgust and distrust of politics is actually focused on the adversarial, polarized national system-schism dominated by billionaires and fake corporate persons. Meanwhile, human persons hunger for an inclusive, deliberative, empowering, and local process to find creative binding solutions for critical, urgent issues, and spontaneous conversations about how to fulfill this need burst out in unlikely places––like the line at U.S. Customs.

Aware that the adversarial organizing techniques and polarized solutions used to frame national issues make for “town meetings from hell,” the authors use history to frame our current disconnect between national and local power before shifting to the techniques and understanding needed to bring people together to rebuild and recreate participatory democracy.

The relevant history to the premise of Slow Democracy is the shift from local authority over local matters, present through the 1830s, to remote, (supposed) representational, and centralized authority over all matters including local. The authors describe how, at the turn of the century, market-place efficiency and the rise of scientist “experts” as authorities began to infuse governments and social systems. Then, two twentieth century events required federal intervention to overcome local politics––the Scopes (Monkey) Trial and the civil rights movement, which fueled a growing rejection of small town authority and local knowledge. Now, the pendulum is swinging back to engage people in local, participatory democracy (slow democracy) as these institutions “constitute the strength of free nations,” as historian Alexis de Tocqueville astutely observed in 1831.

Culture cognition is key to slow democracy. It turns out that humans have a built-in ways for ignoring information that challenges our worldview, our reality, which in turn is framed mostly on selective listening (how many people watch Democracy Now! and Fox News?); cultural signals about sources (would you believe that guy?); our choice of friends (mirror thinking); cognitive filters (who is not guilty of biases that influence whether we accept or reject information?); and repetitive messages (that grind down resistance or enforce acceptance). The authors ask: Can you make a credible case for why a reasonable person on the “other side” believes the opposite of what you believe? If not, you are guilty of using these short cuts to frame your reality.

Learning and using tools to break through our own cognitive filters is key to deliberative democracy. Luckily, we are not a nation of liberal-conservative ideologues with worldviews starkly aligned in red or blue camps, but rather a nation of four archetypes: think Mother Joneses (egalitarian-collectivists), Ron Pauls (egalitarian-individualists), Mr. Gekko, the fictional corporate raider in the film Wall Street (hierarchical-individualists), and the Catholic Church (hierarchical-collectivists). Each archetype has its own needs and drivers (and filters). Meet the needs of the archetype––and you’ve got a conversation!

Slow Democracy explains tools that communities are using to frame issues for inclusion of this diversity. A group process known as a “charrette” worked in a poor neighborhood of south Minneapolis to design a successful housing project and rebuild a sense of pride in community. In Randolph, New Hampshire, community leaders used “cultural vouching,” in which a person from one archetype speaks the language of another archetype to frame an issue, to bridge disagreements and successfully protect one-third of the town’s land base “free-market” development. In Chicago, success with engaging citizens in participatory budgeting led to similar success with the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy,” in which residents and officers work together to reduce crime. Austin uses a variety of tools to engage residents including Speak Week, Meeting-in-a-Box, City Works Academy, community task forces, interactive community forums, and online tools. These tools are all ways to put real power in the hands of local citizenry.

Slow democracy creates an inviting, supporting environment where individuals can make connections, rebuild trust, and venture to engage in creative change based on human values and rights. It’s the work we all hunger to do. Slow Democracy gives us tools to begin the work of reclaiming and reinvigorating local authority over local issues––and the promise of leading our national politicians by example.


[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

101 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Susan Clark and Woden Teachout, Slow Democracy: Rediscovering Community and Bringing Decision Making Back Home”

BevW November 25th, 2012 at 1:52 pm

Susan, Woden, Welcome to the Lake.

Riki, Welcome back to the Lake, thank you for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

BevW November 25th, 2012 at 1:52 pm

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Riki Ott November 25th, 2012 at 1:55 pm

Susan, Woden, do either of you want to start out the chat with a question?

Woden Teachout November 25th, 2012 at 1:57 pm
In response to BevW @ 1

Hello, I’m here!

Elliott November 25th, 2012 at 2:01 pm

Well Riki sure knows how to start a conversation

Welcome to the Lake

BevW November 25th, 2012 at 2:01 pm
In response to Riki Ott @ 3

Riki, Go ahead and ask your first question.

dakine01 November 25th, 2012 at 2:01 pm

Good afernoon Susan and Woden and welcome to Firedoglake this afternoon.

Riki, welcome back.

Susan and/or Woden, I have not read your book so forgive me if you address this in there but it seems that the disconnect between local and national is probably the biggest problem going where local wants jobs and national keeps harping on ‘the deficit’ or ‘the fiscal cliff.’ Similar, we see local in many states loosening the marijuana laws, whether for Medical marijuana or complete legalization while the national pols are still stuck in the “ZOMG! marijuana is the worst drug of them all” no matter how many studies show this is gibberish.

My question, is how does Slow Democracy penetrate the Beltway bubble of the national efforts, regardless of the archetypes, Riki mentions?

Riki Ott November 25th, 2012 at 2:02 pm

Hello folks! Anybody out there feel like democracy isn’t the problem — it’s what is being done in the name of “democracy” by the federal and state governments? Do you have any stories to share about efforts to re-power the democracy ship-of-state through local communities?

Susan Clark November 25th, 2012 at 2:02 pm
In response to Woden Teachout @ 4

Hi, all, I’m here too.

Woden Teachout November 25th, 2012 at 2:03 pm
In response to Riki Ott @ 3

“Democracy” is such a powerful term – I’d love to know what associations people have with it, what stories, what it means to them.

Woden Teachout November 25th, 2012 at 2:06 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 7

This is such an important question and one we’ve talked about alot. On the one hand, we’re really trying to focus on the local — seeing as that IS a place that ordinary citizens can make a difference. Beyond that, though, these stories can inspire people in other places, and examples be picked up and replicated so they become part of the national conversation. I think Slow Food is a good example of this.

Riki Ott November 25th, 2012 at 2:07 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 7

Slow Democracy has not penetrated the treetops yet, but that’s okay. It’s building from the grassroots together with rights-based community organizing in which people are realizing that all jobs are not created equal. The jobs that support local control of energy, water, food, and economy are worth more than jobs that sacrifice public health and the environment for profits for a few. The local communities are building the future, the treetops will follow.

dakine01 November 25th, 2012 at 2:10 pm
In response to Riki Ott @ 12

I guess my concern is how the national works counter productively to the local far too often AND the slow process of penetrating things from local to national at times where we may not have the time.

plus the far too frequent times when the local pols wind up giving up the store to the large businesses that come in, promising the world for all sorts of tax breaks before screwing everything and everyone.

(yeah, I am a bit more of a pessimist than I used to be)

Woden Teachout November 25th, 2012 at 2:10 pm

Yes! And the other important point is that as we, as citizens, become used to controlling our local situations, we are more likely to have higher expectations of the Beltway and national politics.

Susan Clark November 25th, 2012 at 2:11 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 7

You asked how does Slow Democracy penetrate the Beltway bubble of national efforts. While it’s a big question, my response is to start small. The more effective we are in our neighborhoods or towns at making progress on key issues (I am thinking now of environmental issues, for example) the more we faith we will put in our local people and local governments for answers. Examples include the Chicago Conservation Corps, where citizens take on local environmental projects, and the Montgomery County Maryland school system, which has addressed profound issues related to race through local deliberative dialogue. The “beltway” simply can’t work at this scale, but success breeds success.

Riki Ott November 25th, 2012 at 2:14 pm
In response to Woden Teachout @ 10

What I like about slow democracy is that is is fundamentally about change. It’s not like the “green economy” that got hijacked by the greed economy: we can’t shop our way out of this mess even if we buy green products. This is not about transposing the adversarial style politics of Washington DC upon our local governments. Slow democracy is about people discussing and deliberating and actually FRAMING–asking the right questions– that will lead to fundamental shifts, I think, in the way we live on and with the planet.

Woden Teachout November 25th, 2012 at 2:14 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 13

I absolutely agree that the national works counter to the local much of the time. Sometimes this is a good thing – we point to many (not all) environmental standards and the Civil Rights movement as examples — but more often it isn’t, as in the examples you name.

What we’re trying to do with Slow Democracy is point to the local as a place where we can achieve a great deal. Not everything, for sure. But that it’s a key point of entry that is often ignored.

eCAHNomics November 25th, 2012 at 2:15 pm

All over the United States you can find splendid examples of wonderful civil society activities that are improving lives (even though we’re not bowling anymore). Why have none of these served to improve life in the U.S. in general, which is deteriorating at an accelerating speed.

Susan Clark November 25th, 2012 at 2:19 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 13

I commiserate with your pessimism, which is one of the reasons I felt the need to write this book — to document the points of hope. And I can sincerely say that there are many hopeful stories out there to counter the trends you are describing.
In Slow Democracy we argue that the U.S. (and the rest of the world) will be facing excruciating decisions in the coming years, from climate change to economic crises to social issues and beyond. In fact, the time for many of these decisions has already come and gone with no action taken. We desperately need leaders with clarity, wisdom, and courage — and voters to elect them. These voters need to be wise in the ways of leadership — they need to be able to distinguish between deliberation and gridlock, policy-making and politicking. For this, we (citizens) need experience. If we’re only asked to be citizens once/year when we cast a ballot, our democratic skills will atrophy. We become cynical and democratically anemic. But if we’ve bee in leadership positions ourselves, even if they’re small, we’re better able to identify real leadership and real answers.

Woden Teachout November 25th, 2012 at 2:21 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 18

I’m interested in this question and have been pondering — can you say more about the deterioration? Politics? Quality of life? Popular culture?

Riki Ott November 25th, 2012 at 2:23 pm
In response to Riki Ott @ 12

Yeah, I know, this is going to be very tight on time. Really a few more “100″ year storms in NYC and DC might prod the national politicos into action but then, actually, I’d even worry MORE. I don’t think the national leaders are the ones to lead us out of this. I think solutions are going to be diverse and creative and come from the people — once people remember the process for working together. That’s why this book is helpful. It’s about process. And it works.

eCAHNomics November 25th, 2012 at 2:24 pm
In response to Woden Teachout @ 20

Income distribution (1%, etc), falling real wages/worker for 4 decades, no employment prospects, housing disaster. To name a few.

seaglass November 25th, 2012 at 2:26 pm
In response to Susan Clark @ 19

I agree that the time for making decisions as regards Climate change has come and passed. Now the decisions are going to be who and what to protect and who and what to abandon as the situation gets increasingly worse for increasingly large nos. of humanity.

Susan Clark November 25th, 2012 at 2:26 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 18

I think one of the most exciting aspects of Slow Democracy is emerging research about what a good – or bad – policy-making process actually *does to us* as citizens. There is a lot of evidence that slow democracy — inclusive, deliberative, empowered decision-making– creates an upward, virtuous spiral.

There’s a really cool example: the American jury system. (Check out “The Jury and Democracy” by John Gastil and his colleagues.) If you keep in mind that jurors are just regular people off the street, but for a few days or weeks out of their lives, they are making empowered, binding judgments as part of our democratic system — this new evidence shows that if you have deliberated on a jury, you are likely to come away changed. For example:

• Jury service raises voting rates.
• It often increases political activity
• It often improves self-confidence in your own political abilities.
• You may be more likely to get more involved in community groups
• You often follow public issues in the news more.
• And many say their faith in fellow citizens is increased.

to me, this says that when we increase slow democracy (and as you say, there are an increasing number of great examples of civil society across the U.S. — unsung heroes) we slowly but surely improve society.

Riki Ott November 25th, 2012 at 2:30 pm
In response to Woden Teachout @ 17

I think our society is sort of like the Titanic, sinking. There are pockets of sanity — the band played on in the Titanic as the ship went down– but the cultural milieu has shifted to gross inequalities of finances (the 1 percent v. the rest of us). There’s another little book called The Spirit Level that clearly demonstrates that more equal societies are more healthy societies across a wide range of metrics. In a democracy there should be more equality.

eCAHNomics November 25th, 2012 at 2:31 pm
In response to Susan Clark @ 24

Re Jury system

1. How many people are opting out of service, i.e. what are participation rates today vs 10, 20, 30 years ago.

2. Few people who do participate are called often, maybe once every couple of years.

3. 98% of cases are settled either out of court (civil) or thru plea bargain (criminal).

How could jury system have a macro influence given its specifics.

TobyWollin November 25th, 2012 at 2:32 pm
In response to Riki Ott @ 8

I’m from the part of Upstate NY that our governor and DEc are promoting as the test counties for fracking and I can tell you that this is energized people who have not been interested in anything for a long time and has gotten people to work together who have not agreed on much of anything else.

Woden Teachout November 25th, 2012 at 2:33 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 22

Thanks – I wanted to make sure we were on the same page (political/economic issues).

One of the things that we write about in the introduction is how the fact that we come from Vermont has shaped our perspectives, and given us a sense of what is possible. Health insurance is a great example. Every Vermont child is eligible for state insurance under Dr. Dynasaur. So at the same time as we’re having a national health care crisis, we have solutions that are going on at a state (in this case) level. That obviously doesn’t affect children in Georgia, Mississippi, Arizona directly, but it DOES set an example that serves as a point of reference in national debates – now or down the road. Which is easier than getting similar legislation through Congress.

Let me post this and go back to your question (this is getting long).

Susan Clark November 25th, 2012 at 2:36 pm
In response to Riki Ott @ 21

I agree, as much as I’d like to see better national and international responses on climate change, I’m not holding my breath — but I do anticipate hundreds and thousands of local responses. In Slow Democracy we talk about “emergence” and the shifting paradigm of change. This is the idea that many local collaborations produce global patterns. Partly because new technologies (e.g. the internet) have created a new mindset, society-wide we are becoming accustomed to thinking like a wiki. We’re less dependent on experts and less interested in top-down answers, more interested in collaboration and information sharing. Like a school of fish or a flock of starlings, we are getting better at moving in sync, leaderless and yet toward a common goal. I was very heartened that climate activist Bill McKibben wrote of our book, “it will lead you (liberal or conservative” down the logical path toward a working society.”

Woden Teachout November 25th, 2012 at 2:39 pm
In response to TobyWollin @ 27

I’ve followed those conversations about fracking. If I remember correctly, in your area they’ve inspired legislation to enhance local decision-making capacity. Have I got that right?

BevW November 25th, 2012 at 2:39 pm

Susan, Woden, Riki,
Do you find different responses to “slow democracy” in different age groups, are younger adults more likely to become active in their communities after the Occupy Movement happened last year?

Riki Ott November 25th, 2012 at 2:41 pm
In response to Riki Ott @ 25

The jury system is just one example. Engaging with other people in meaningful dialogue is very empowering. It’s really something you have to try to believe and believe in. Since fall 2008, I’ve mostly been traveling the country teaching people in communities, campuses, and more recently, Occupy camps, about what I called “deep democracy,” but what Susan and Woden call slow democracy. The results are heartening. It’s like putting sparks into dry tinder. People get it and take off organizing on local issues. I realized that if adults have forgotten how to do democracy, then it’s something we’re not teaching our children either. So I designed a course, Rethinking Democracy, posted on http://www.ultimatecivics.org. This is really about movement building and it’s easier to see progress when visiting many places around the country. Things are shifting towards recognition that our way of living must build and nurture all forms of wealth– social, environmental, and economic. Will the shift happen in time to pass some form of livable planet onto the next generation? I can only hope so.

TobyWollin November 25th, 2012 at 2:41 pm

Susan and Woden – The thing that I think people are looking for is how to get started. We are generally so separated from our communities that we can read your book and intellectually say to ourselves, “Oh, this is great stuff – but I don’t know how I can help get this implemented in my xxx” (school board, township, city block, etc.).

eCAHNomics November 25th, 2012 at 2:42 pm
In response to Woden Teachout @ 28

VT medical ins system was designed by the same MIT guy, Gruber, who did Obamacare & Romneycare. It has no provision for cost containment & will bankrupt the state in due course.

State worker pension benefits and school costs are eroding the budget.

VT is also unique in other ways. Pop=600,000, the size of med towns in most of U.S. Also a self-selected pop of yuppies coming from more prosperous environments & buying up unprofitable farmland.

That is a time bomb. Those immigrants no longer have high incomes and are aging.

Susan Clark November 25th, 2012 at 2:43 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 26

The point here is that the jury data proves that deliberative democracy improves us individually. As Jane Mansbridge (Harvard democracy scholar and advocate) wrote, “For the first time we have data on a large sample showing indisputably that taking civic responsibility in one realm promotes taking civil responsibility later in another.”
What this does is gives us the ammunition to approach local/regional/state governments (and beyond) and say, when in the name of “efficiency” you disempower at the local level through centralization and privatization, you weaken democracy. As a democracy advocate who has these conversations with policy makers frequently, I can say this is powerful stuff.

TobyWollin November 25th, 2012 at 2:45 pm
In response to Woden Teachout @ 30

Some townships have been able to pass legislation banning fracking within the town’s borders (such as Dryden where, because it’s near Cornell and they’ve got probably the highest per capita consumption of Prius cars and Berkinstocks, there is huge support); other places, such as the City of Binghamton, have tried to get this and gotten shot down in court. It’s hit and miss. Cuomo is dancing around this entire thing now and has said the decision will not be made by the scheduled date – everyone is angry with him.

DWBartoo November 25th, 2012 at 2:45 pm
In response to Susan Clark @ 19

Thank you, Susan, Woden, and Riki, for joining us this evening.

Ah, Susan, when “democracy” becomes merely assenting to the lesser of evils, when it is ONLY about the five minutes of voting, then it may too easily be co-opted by tyranny and hubris. Unfortunately, there is little discussion about the vibrancy of participatory democracy, for we are told, over and over again, that we have the “best” that we might “hope” for, that money, and deliberate obstacles are the “way” of “representative” democracy.

The other day a commenter here suggested that the “… current Congress is immune to public pressure.”

He was, I think, speaking about the lame-duck session. Yet, he could well have been speaking about the just-elected Congress, for the public, now, has but little suasion with them, while money and threats from powerful lobbies and individuals most certainly will continue to have “clout”.

The only viable power the public may, generally, muster, is the threat of ouster … at the end of the “term”.

The “problems” are not merely “systemic”, they are intentional and quite deliberate, enforced by the legacy parties, and all three “branches” …

Now, this is not cynical, I hold, merely realistic.

It is the new and compelling narratives describing a new and better “place”, a humane and sustainable future, which those who encounter these narratives might actually “feel” that will offer not merely hope but a pathway to genuine participation … even as Occupy has offered as example.

Yet for democracy to actually succeed, it needs to become more ubiquitous, even extending to the workplace and where we live, that is, at home. Who do you see as offering these visions which stoke imagination and commitment?


Woden Teachout November 25th, 2012 at 2:47 pm
In response to TobyWollin @ 33

Yes, absolutely. And we really wanted to help people make that leap. That’s why we focus on telling so many stories, as a way for people to see what’s worked here, and here, and here, and start thinking about what might work in their communities. And then we step back from that to identify the key elements to slow democracy:
it must be local
it must be inclusive
it must be deliberative
it must be empowered
And we show what each of those elements looks like as it plays out in real neighborhoods and towns.

eCAHNomics November 25th, 2012 at 2:49 pm
In response to Susan Clark @ 35

I wanted to avoid personal anecdotes, but the last time I served on a jury, murder case, I single-handedly hung it. It was not community building, it was adversarial; everyone ganged up on me. You’ll have to pick another example if you want to convince me.

Riki Ott November 25th, 2012 at 2:50 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 26

fracking… an opportunity for organizing. So are other issues such as health care, multiple wars over dwindling resources, crashed economies, bailing out the big guys instead of the small people, the school to prison pipeline, tar sands, the climate crisis. There’s no end of opportunity right now and the thing is: all these crises share the same root cause: we don’t have a functioning democracy at the national level and the states are loosing it, too. All this organizing around rights is actually ILLEGAL under federal laws, but federal laws that do not recognize human sovereignty over corporate power are illegitimate and need to be defied, which is what is happening across the country as local citizenry becomes empowered and communities pass rights-based laws.

TobyWollin November 25th, 2012 at 2:51 pm
In response to Woden Teachout @ 38

Woden – but let’s get down to as local as it gets — the individual. If you have someone who works in their office all day, goes home at night, deals with the kids and then parks themselves in front of the internet, then they are not even in a position to offer a suggestion. I’m thinking that a lot of people are just fearful of getting into a meeting, getting into an argument with someone or not even feeling that they can offer an opinion. What do you think is the easiest way for people to get involved in civic engagement?

Susan Clark November 25th, 2012 at 2:53 pm
In response to BevW @ 31

If I had to generalize in terms of age, I would say that young people are often more excited about activism (fighting the good fight) and it’s not until we get older — pay local taxes, perhaps buy a house and put down roots in a place, maybe have kids in the local schools, etc. — that we start to think about community-weaving. Some people remain activists all their lives — it’s how they define themselves — but sadly, I think most Americans don’t see themselves as change-makers and they don’t see “politics” as worth their time.
in Slow Democracy we encourage people to step back from what they’ve learned about democracy from “watching the show” at the national level, and to re-envision government as a “we” not a “they.”

Woden Teachout November 25th, 2012 at 2:53 pm
In response to TobyWollin @ 36

In the book, we write about the example of ‘Managing Marcellus’ — deliberative theater that took on the issue of fracking in Pennsylvania. Three out of four people who left one production said that they would be more involved in their community because of the event.

Riki Ott November 25th, 2012 at 2:57 pm
In response to Woden Teachout @ 30

Since fall 2008, I’ve literally been on the road over 300 days a year. When I started out, my audiences were about 2/3s academic and 1/3 community with most of the latter participants snowy-white hair Elders. That has completely reversed in four years. In addition, the community events are attended by three generations with more and more youth. VERY exciting. Everyone is hungry for tools to engage. I’ve found that by just teaching–basically what Susan and Woden write about–in practical interactive ways, people are able to design campaigns within the timeframe of the workshop (10 hours split into 1.5 days).

eCAHNomics November 25th, 2012 at 2:59 pm
In response to Riki Ott @ 40

Toby already typed how fracking is a divisive issues, not a uniting one. Those who are prosperous vs. those who want jobs, or at least a small amount of $$ for their otherwise worthless property.

The man-made global warming is a construct designed to divert real people, in intense economic pain today, from that to some ill-defined better life in the distant future, i.e. a red herring.

Most environment issues are divisive.

Even in the days of the serious ones in the 1970s when the Monongahela River caught fire. If it weren’t for Nixon, we might still be dumping garbage into the the waterways & the air. They still are in poor countries despite huge consensus of local real people against it.

Elliott November 25th, 2012 at 3:00 pm
In response to Riki Ott @ 44

That IS exciting

Woden and Susan, are you going to a lot of colleges and universities?

Woden Teachout November 25th, 2012 at 3:00 pm
In response to TobyWollin @ 41

This is something that we’ve talked about a lot. A number of people say, “That all sounds good, but I’m so busy and I don’t have the resources – either external or internal — to get involved this way.”

I think it depends on what the issue is. Inclusion is key: not just putting out a call that this meeting will be held on this night, but making sure to invite those citizens who don’t normally come through their community channels — churches, synagogues, online communities, whatever it is. In the Montgomery Maryland study circles on race, which Susan mentioned earlier, the organizers made a special effort to reach out to non-English speaking parents. And, as one of the principals said, “The PTO looks a lot different now.” That’s a small example, but it shows how much of a difference an invitation can make.

We are not saying that everyone has to be doing slow democracy all the time. We want to make sure, though, that those structures are there as people want to avail themselves of them — like Slow Food.

Riki Ott November 25th, 2012 at 3:01 pm
In response to TobyWollin @ 36

whoops wrong reply. I was going for Dw.

Riki Ott November 25th, 2012 at 3:02 pm
In response to TobyWollin @ 36


Riki Ott November 25th, 2012 at 3:06 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 37

finally… Ordinary people engaging in community dialogue is inspiring others. We don’t need to look outside ourselves for leadership. It’s about finding the courage, patience, and trust to engage. I’ve been teaching this for 4 years and am about done with a manual, Organizing for Change, so people can guide themselves through the process. Also check out the Value-based community organizing guide at http://www.ultimatecivics.org. You’ll notice it’s mostly about pitfalls to avoid for one simple exercise. As Slow Democracy points out, it’s important to get the process right first and the outcome will take care of itself. You need to have meetings with people of diverse opinions because solutions that meet everyone’s needs will be reflected in and supported by the larger community. But certainly have a plan to FACILITATE the first few meetings until trust in the process builds enough to overcome the antagonism.

TobyWollin November 25th, 2012 at 3:06 pm
In response to Riki Ott @ 49

Riki – you are just becoming a victim of my personal magnetism… :)

Riki Ott November 25th, 2012 at 3:11 pm
In response to Susan Clark @ 42

I spoke with some child psychologists because I noticed today’s youth was different. I learned the millennium generation is about collaboration and peace-making… much different than my Boomer generation of in-your-face fisticuffs. The millennium youth are networkers and they’ve got the technology to do it. Each generation is different. I don’t know if the next one has been characterized yet. Millennium youth are ripe for slow democracy.

Riki Ott November 25th, 2012 at 3:12 pm
In response to TobyWollin @ 51

Actually, not to dash any egos, but the CAT kept messing with my hands and I misfired on keys.

Susan Clark November 25th, 2012 at 3:14 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 37

Sorry, I just wrote a response that seemed to have exploded the computer. Was it that radical?
I’ll try again.
You mention the need to “stoke imagination and commitment” and I love that wording.
One of the examples that fires me up is the growing participatory budgeting movement. Because I think one of the keys to stoking imagination and commitment is scale — to break things down to a human scale, sizes that we can relate to. In cities, this often means talking in terms of neighborhoods. It began in Brazil a couple of decades ago but has been used in many countries, and recently is catching on in the U.S. It’s used in I think 4 wards in Chicago and 8 districts in NY City, plus one city in California, and it’s under consideration in many others.
Here, anyone can take part in their neighborhood assembly (you aren’t elected) and you discuss your discuss your neighborhood’s discretionary funding options. (Fixed costs like labor contracts and debt payments make up the majority of most city budgets, and those are off the table – but even if only 20% of the budget is in play, that’s often still millions of dollars, and well worth the time of a meeting. And it’s about things that even very busy people care about in our neighborhoods – safety, street lighting, playgrounds, bike lanes.
After the initial deliberation, the assemblies choose delegates to create specific budget proposals based on their wishes. And then after the committee work, the public votes on the proposals.

Fresh, new, spirited community leaders are emerging through this process – because there’s real power. It’s very exciting.

TobyWollin November 25th, 2012 at 3:14 pm
In response to Riki Ott @ 52

Riki — right now, what I see youngsters doing as their ‘thing’ are internet petitions, some of which have been very successful (I was amazed, for example that the one criticizing SUNY Buffalo for the Shale Gas Institute resulted in their closing it down). With the kids seeing the internet working – we need to move them from ‘in front of the screen’ to ‘sitting down with a group’, I think.

BevW November 25th, 2012 at 3:15 pm

Riki, could you tell us about your experience in Amsterdam with Slow Democracy, the international reaction?

Riki Ott November 25th, 2012 at 3:16 pm
In response to Woden Teachout @ 47

Actually, I liked what you and Susan wrote about democracy: all the people don’t have to do it all the time or even some of the time, but some people need to be doing it all of the time. Or something like that. The cat is now asleep on top of Slow Democracy so I can’t find that dog-eared page…

DWBartoo November 25th, 2012 at 3:16 pm
In response to Riki Ott @ 50

I quite agree, Riki, and very well said, btw.

I am having problems with the “net”, this evening, so commenting is s-l-o-w and ponderous.

The sense of “common ground”, quite a much as common plight, must be the means by which broader engagement might be affected, and our civil society is quite shattered at this time by the assaults upon reason AND the Rule of Law.

A most excellent Book Salon, this evening.


Woden Teachout November 25th, 2012 at 3:16 pm
In response to Elliott @ 46

Susan’s been doing most of our traveling, so I was going to let her take this question — I will say, though, that we’ve been getting a great response from people in their 20s and 30s. They are looking for ways to get involved over and beyond the traditional political models. It’s really exciting!

Woden Teachout November 25th, 2012 at 3:19 pm
In response to Riki Ott @ 57

“As political scholar Benjamin Barber argues, a strong democracy is not one where everyone participates all the time, nor where some people participate all the time, but where everyone participates some of the time. Or, as the slow money movement says, ‘We must slow our money down – not all of it, of course, but enough to matter.’”

(Let sleeping cats lie.)

BevW November 25th, 2012 at 3:20 pm
In response to TobyWollin @ 55

Toby, I agree, with the Drinking Liberally group I host, I’ve seen most of our members are politically active in local first, then State and Federal politics. The face to face interaction, on a regular basis, is reinforcing and the approval of actions, that then snow ball into more actions.

Riki Ott November 25th, 2012 at 3:21 pm
In response to TobyWollin @ 55

The kids are doing hands-on democracy, too. When I was teaching Rethinking Democracy at the Santa Barbara high school this January, a Santa Barbara class of SIXTH graders made NPR for getting the SB CIty Council to pass an ordinance about eliminating plastic bags. The class was inspired to action after watching Bag It. For other very inspiring examples of youth kicking butt, check out: Earth Island Institute’s New Leaders Initiative and the Brower Youth Awards. I use these 4 minute clips to teach high school students about analyzing action plans and from there, we go to building their own action plan to make their school or community “healthier” as in more sustainable or more democratic. The youth today ROCK. Do you know that 17-year old Alec Loorz sued the U.S. government over its climate policies b/c they are not safe for his generation?

Susan Clark November 25th, 2012 at 3:21 pm
In response to Elliott @ 46

Riki, you asked about colleges and universities, and the answer is yes, we’re getting out to some (but not the 300-day-a-year tour you’re talking about! Wow!) I have been heartened by the number of colleges that have expressed interest in Slow Democracy, whether as a text or as an important concept to cover academically.

I think it’s fascinating that in the last decade or so, there are new programs popping up all over to train people in dialogue and deliberation skills. Because as you point out, it’s not just doing the same old stuff better — it’s really a re-imagining of what democracy and citizenship can mean. Where in the mid-’90s there were no programs in this area, now there are:
–Center for Democratic Deliberation (Penn State);
–Center for Public Deliberation (Colorado State);
–Institute for Civic Discourse and Democracy (Kansas State);
—Center for Deliberative Democracy (Stanford);
… just to name a few.

Often they’re linked to public administration, i.e. often people who are training to work at some level of government. To me this is evidence that our interest in engaging people effectively is rising dramatically.

DWBartoo November 25th, 2012 at 3:23 pm
In response to Susan Clark @ 54

Thank you for your response, Susan. The ether seems to be eating mine comments as well, this evening, so I greatly appreciate your multiple attempts.

Clearly, we are on the same page, in terms of what we see and intuitively anticipate.

If humankind may imagine a rational and reasonable, a sustainable and humane future, then I’ve no doubts but that our joined consciousness, and dare I say genius as yet little or not at all recognized, will allow us to realize and embrace such a Renaissance to the well-being of the planet and the flowering of human endeavor and capacity.


mzchief November 25th, 2012 at 3:24 pm
In response to Woden Teachout @ 38

{ *delurking* }

YES! and how the “down-sizing” of the present dysfunctional structures occurs.

{ waves at everybody, back to *lurking* }

RevBev November 25th, 2012 at 3:24 pm
In response to BevW @ 61

I hope you will talk more about the DL experience sometime. There is a group here that I keep thinking I will get too, and I know it is still meeting after the election. Thanks for mentioning it…I know very little about their activity.

Susan Clark November 25th, 2012 at 3:26 pm
In response to Riki Ott @ 57

I love that quote too (although I agree, I wouldn’t wake up the cat for it!) It’s from Benjamin Barber, who defines “strong democracy” not as all of the people participating all of the time, nor as some of the people participating all of the time, but all of the people participating some of the time in some of the responsibilities of governing.

It sounds manageable, doesn’t it?

Riki Ott November 25th, 2012 at 3:27 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 58

Add to reply to you but also to Susan and Woden who emphasize that it’s really all about PROCESS. If you get the diversity and good facilitators (who can come up from the school of hard knocks), magic happens. I’ve learned in racially polarized situations to engage group leaders who come from the oppressed side b/c they understand and have learned to listen. Slow Democracy uses examples of one right, one left, one neutral and that works too b/c it shows by example. The trick is to open people’s minds to LISTEN to each other. A very clever trick (I’ve employed) is to teach a class of high school students to facilitate, then have them lead a community event (for school credit) b/c guess what? Adults are better behaved in front of children…

Riki Ott November 25th, 2012 at 3:31 pm
In response to Susan Clark @ 63

yes, the change at schools and in communities is rapid and mind-blowing. Let’s talk after this b/c I could put a word in for your book at places I’ve taught. Especially colleges/universities. As far as the skill-set, I mean even fifth graders are learning about conflict resolution (I don’t teach below that yet). Marshall Rosenberg has some competition from 11-and 12- year olds!

DWBartoo November 25th, 2012 at 3:31 pm
In response to Riki Ott @ 68

You are delightfully insightful (and inciting, as well) in your superb grasp of human psychology, Riki. My experience confirms all that you share in this comment.


Susan Clark November 25th, 2012 at 3:35 pm
In response to BevW @ 61

Bev, I don’t know about your Drinking Liberally group (great name!) but I agree that people do often get their start with local issues. We start with what we know and love, and work out from there.

Joan Blades, cofounder of MoveOn.org, has now launched a program called “Living Room Conversations.” Here, two people – you and a neighbor – host a conversation on a controversial topic. But the trick is, the hosts must be self-identified as different political persuasions (e.g. one progressive, and the other, a self-identified conservative). And they each invite a few of their friends, but again, the balance must be maintained.

Living Room Conversations are being launched across the country on topics from voting practices, food and health, to money in politics. Rather than trying to find “agreement” (shared beliefs or opinions), the goal is to discover areas of “alignment” (shared intention)—in other words, common ground.

We see so much polarization on the national stage; and much of it is orchestrated by forces that would, I think, like us to remain polarized and thus immobilized. These small acts bust the myth that our current, disempowering polarization is inevitable.

Blades says the project is “perhaps the most radical, potentially culture-changing initiative” she’s ever been engaged in.

In her pilot project on climate change, there was plenty of disagreement about the causes of global warming, but participants discovered common ground on efficiency and increasing renewable energy sources. People really enjoyed it — more than half of them said they’d like to continue with similar conversations.

Woden Teachout November 25th, 2012 at 3:38 pm
In response to mzchief @ 65

Waving back…. and thanks for the link — looking forward to checking it out.

RevBev November 25th, 2012 at 3:39 pm

This really is so helpful and optimistic. I had gone to a Dialogue and Deliberation conference, but much I did not find particularly relevant. Small groups can be very productive….I look forward to the workbook also.

Riki Ott November 25th, 2012 at 3:40 pm
In response to mzchief @ 65

Hah! You lurkers… we’re in the midst of a revolution (defined as fundamental systemic change). Check out George Lakey’s http://www.historyisaweapon.com (org?) Strategizing for a Living Revolution. There are five phases, overlapping, of change: cultural preparation (all the current crises), organization-building (hey, let’s use what works — deep/slow democracy), confrontation (nonviolent is more successful), massive political and economic noncooperation (happening as people take back local control), and building parallel or in this case new institutions (Slow democracy is NOT the fake democracy in name only espoused by federal leaders). Stop lurking. Join the revolution.

Susan Clark November 25th, 2012 at 3:42 pm
In response to Riki Ott @ 69

Fantastic, Riki — I would love to talk about this with you.
I agree, I have seen wonderful work being done with kids as young as elementary school about listening, collaboration, finding workable solutions. And as you say, these are skills that can be (and need to be) taught.
And in talking about deliberative democracy, we can’t let ourselves be painted as “soft” and believing that every conversation needs to end with compromise. As a society, we need to recall the lost art of holding our ground gracefully — holding tension civilly, long enough so that we can truly hear each other out.

Susan Clark November 25th, 2012 at 3:45 pm
In response to RevBev @ 73

Yes, there is so much going on in the dialogue and deliberation field today that it can be utterly overwhelming. At the risk of adding to that, though, I would recommend that anyone interested in learning more about these skills take a peek at the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation website http://www.ncdd.org.

Susan Clark November 25th, 2012 at 3:46 pm
In response to Riki Ott @ 74

Fantastic and very hopeful description of the revolution at hand!

RevBev November 25th, 2012 at 3:48 pm
In response to Susan Clark @ 76

Thanks…I will. This Salon has been very helpful. Come again…

DWBartoo November 25th, 2012 at 3:48 pm
In response to Riki Ott @ 74

Well said, Riki, and much appreciated.


Riki Ott November 25th, 2012 at 3:49 pm
In response to Susan Clark @ 71

Yes, MoveToAmend.org (which I co-founded) is a grassroots coalition basically doing “kitchen table democracy” — we’re about amending the U.S. Constitution: corporations are not persons, money is not speech. In two short years, MTA is active now in over 30 states. We can’t do democracy by proxy. It’s not about sending money to national beltway or other organizations. It’s about doing the work ourselves.

And the cat woke up and knocked me completely out of Book Salon! SOrry for delayed response…

Susan Clark November 25th, 2012 at 3:50 pm
In response to RevBev @ 73

While I’m adding websites, I’ll mention http://www.slowdemocracy.org, and http://www.facebook.com/slowdemocracy. Hope to continue the conversation with others who may be interested!

RevBev November 25th, 2012 at 3:51 pm
In response to Susan Clark @ 81

Good….do you think there are small groups working on the immigration issue?

BevW November 25th, 2012 at 3:52 pm

As we come to the end of this great Book Salon discussion,

Susan, Woden, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book, and how we need to get more involved in our local communities.

Riki, Thank you very much for Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:

Susan and Woden’s website and book (Slow Democracy)

Riki’s website and books (RikiOtt.com)

Thanks all, Have a great week.

If you would like to contact the FDL Book Salon: FiredoglakeBookSalon@gmail.com

Riki Ott November 25th, 2012 at 3:53 pm
In response to Susan Clark @ 75

The amazing part (for me) was realizing that once you get past the shouting, people share a very core group of values that we share by virtue of being human. The national politics and media (controlled by corporations) would like us to be polarized (divide and conquer). But it’s really amazing how much we agree on, rather than disagree about. Like disagreeing is the visible tip of the iceberg but underneath is this mass of compassion that binds us together. Once we tap into this wellspring of compassion, anything is possible. We are the change we believe in.

Susan Clark November 25th, 2012 at 3:53 pm
In response to RevBev @ 78

Bev and Riki, thanks very much for hosting us! From MoveToAmend to the other links and insights, I’ve been learning as much as I’ve been contributing!

TobyWollin November 25th, 2012 at 3:54 pm
In response to Riki Ott @ 80

Oh, Riki – I did the ‘stamp the money’ project!!!

Riki Ott November 25th, 2012 at 3:54 pm
In response to RevBev @ 82

I’m sure of it. I usually start researching with Yes! Magazine, which covers a wide variety of issues and offers practical solutions. It’s all online. http://www.yesmagazine.org

RevBev November 25th, 2012 at 3:55 pm
In response to Susan Clark @ 85

The other Bev is the host…Thank you for coming;)

Riki Ott November 25th, 2012 at 3:55 pm
In response to TobyWollin @ 86

I’ve yet to get a stamped dollar in change… but will celebrate when I do! Good on you.

RevBev November 25th, 2012 at 3:55 pm
In response to Riki Ott @ 87

Many thanks…

Woden Teachout November 25th, 2012 at 3:56 pm

Thank you! It’s been a pleasure.

bigbrother November 25th, 2012 at 3:57 pm
In response to Riki Ott @ 80

Hi Rick, Susan and Teachout. Here on the California Coast a democratic activist group was born out of a need to protect our coastal marine life from seismic blasting. It was so effective that it stopped the project in just 3 months. Many of the participants were introduced to local democracy at work for the first time. It was a learning time an awakening for them. There were other groups opposed as well on a national level. They are so inspired they want to take on more issues. C.O.A.S.T. ALLIANCE we are called http://www.stoptheblasting goes to show you how effective local versus national is.

Riki Ott November 25th, 2012 at 3:57 pm
In response to TobyWollin @ 86

Oh, I remembered where I was heading before the cat blitzed me.
Gene Sharp with the Albert Einstein Institute has a 2-page list of 198 methods of nonviolent direct action. Pick something that resonates with you. We don’t all have to be getting pepper-sprayed or jailed — at least not all of us, all of the time!

DWBartoo November 25th, 2012 at 3:58 pm

I hope, that all of you, Susan, Woden, and Riki, will consider returning to FDL whenever the spirit and time may move and allow you to do.

You shall always find a warm, attentive welcome, here, for you inspire and encourage; things most needful and necessary at this critical juncture in time and place.

You all have my greatest appreciation.

As well, my thanks to Bev, as always.

And special thanks to all the freedom fighters who meet here to, civilly and considerately, seek truth, justice, and the inclusive, non-violent way forward for all of humanity and the planet.


Susan Clark November 25th, 2012 at 3:58 pm
In response to Riki Ott @ 84

Beautifully said, Riki. We can set off a virtuous cycle of discussions that create connections and reveal creative new sustainable solutions that could, slowly but surely, change the world.

Riki Ott November 25th, 2012 at 3:58 pm
In response to RevBev @ 90

Bev, Susan, Woden, everyone else (even lurkers),

Thanks for an exciting couple hours. The cat just left. How did he know the party is over?

Woden Teachout November 25th, 2012 at 4:00 pm
In response to bigbrother @ 92

Great example! Thanks for the link.

DWBartoo November 25th, 2012 at 4:01 pm
In response to Riki Ott @ 84

Aye, Riki, and beautifully well said, we have much more in common that in difference, and the difference is to be treasured, for it admits of possibility beyond our individual ken.


CTuttle November 25th, 2012 at 4:05 pm
In response to Riki Ott @ 74

…Join the revolution…

That’s why I Occupy…! Mahalo Nui Loa, Riki, you’re a true superstar for a great many years…!

Mahalo, Susan, WT, and Bev, for another awesome Book Salon…!

A lot of a great info to follow up on…! *g*

mzchief November 25th, 2012 at 4:15 pm
In response to Riki Ott @ 74

{ * materializes * }

Woden Teachout: Bet you are already familiar with @BirgittaJ ‘s work.

RikiOtt: The jujitsu, collaborative, crowd-sourced debt-for-the-99%-is-destigmatized-and-gets-ionized movement has broken $8.5M USD and the meme is going viral beyond US borders. Check out http://uptheanti.org.uk. Can’t wait for India and China to weigh in as they too are dealing with the “financialization” beast.

He he!

{ * dematerializes * }

Phoenix Woman November 25th, 2012 at 5:29 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 34
Sorry but the comments are closed on this post