It’s Election Day! May the votes be ever in our favor. What will it take for us as a country to come together and dare for democracy after Decision 2020? Regardless of who wins the election, we as citizens will have to pick up the pieces and demand the democracy reform to bend the moral arc back in the direction of justice. Frances Moore Lappé and Adam Eichen, who coauthored Daring Democracy: Igniting Power, Meaning, and Connection for the America We Want, came together in our online event, Daring Democracy in 2020, on October 23, to discuss what that would look like and how to keep stoking the fires for social justice. David Daley, author of Ratf**cked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy, moderated the discussion. Here’s what they had to say.
This excerpt from their event has been edited and condensed for clarity.
David Daley: I want to talk about how we translate the spirit of Daring Democracy and the spirit of what we’ve seen across the nation over the course of the last three years, and how we keep that going. The fight for a more daring democracy has always been fought by those who had tugged Dr. King’s arc of moral justice in another direction, but there’s always the possibility that the White House changes hands in this election, that people feel less immediate fear. If you’re talking about turning fear into action, perhaps people will feel as if they have turned fear into action. And then they let go of the arc. Frances, I’m curious: How do we keep this energy and action going if Joe Biden wins? And in turn, how do we hold Democrats accountable for democracy reform if Democrats hold the trifecta in Washington come January?
Frances Moore Lappé: I know that Biden has said that democracy reform is important, and I wish he had highlighted it more. And who knows? It may take another march or several more marches. But I feel like we are in a different world today. President Trump is such an alert. Most people understand that this was a presidency that was not a fluke, but rather a direct product of a highly broken, warped system not in favor of the people. That’s clear now, and that’s a big gain for us. People are more awake. One of the things I love to say is: “To save the democracy we thought we had, we have to take it where it’s never been.” People get that it’s not about just patching up something broken but that we have to go forward and to go much deeper. Three quarters of us understand that money has way too much power in politics.
What’s key to going forward in helping everyone pushing for democracy reform is to frame it with the message of working toward a better life. That people have been so hurt by the brutalism of an extreme form of capitalist logic. That people have been made vulnerable in so many ways, especially to the very narrow messaging of an authoritarian voice. We can come forward linking all our reforms with everyone doing better, just as we did during my generation. (I was born in the forties.) From my generation on through the seventies, every social class benefited and doubled its family income, and the poorest gained the most. Can you imagine that? It’s important to link that with the day-to-day suffering people are experiencing to show what is possible.
As for how to motivate people, we need to create a place where they can see the breadth and depth of the Democracy Movement, find their place in it, and see how they can plug in right now. We’ve created an online meeting ground that just launched. It’s called DemocracyMovement.us. There’s a map there. I just went to Massachusetts, and there it was! It shows who’s taking what money from whom and what campaigns are underway. It’s just a tool, but I’m very excited about it.
DD: Adam, let’s build on where this goes next. This is where my possibilist and my pessimist intersect, and I need you to pull me out to bring me back towards where we need to be. The US Supreme Court has issued troubling decisions on voting rights. This last week, we learned that there are four conservatives who would review the power of state constitutions to regulate free and fair elections. Which means you’ve got four justices to the right of the man who wrote the Shelby County decision, and a fifth still to come. We’ve seen the initiatives that have been undone by courts and legislatures. How does this movement need to evolve to address these challenges? How do activists need to think about the road forward and adjust their strategies if the other side has shifted in its tactics?
Adam Eichen: This is profoundly discouraging. But, Dave, you know me: I will throw it right back at you in a more positive frame.
One of the things we highlight in Daring Democracy is the coordination of what we termed the Anti-Democracy Movement, inspired in large part by a secret memo written by another Supreme Court justice from long ago, Lewis F. Powell, Jr., about how to reign in corporate power in Washington, DC. Seems kind of silly now to think that corporations didn’t have a lot of power, but there’s accuracy there in the late 1960s and 1970s. The ways in which they have been deliberate about unleashing money in politics, restricting the right to vote, gerrymandering, but also as you said, packing the courts with these ideologues—they’re doing whatever they can for partisan gain. We may think they are non-partisan, intellectual jurists, but it’s very clear, if the past decade has shown anything, that they are partisan hacks. John Roberts and the rest of them in the Shelby County decision, which is one of the worst decisions in the last decade—maybe even post World War II—and the effect we see of it today are all very troubling.
But building off what Frankie said, there’s only one solution: to fight like hell. That involves massive citizen engagement not just to pass HR 1, which is a game-changer. It would mandate independent redistricting commissions for congressional elections. It would pass a slew of pro-voter laws. It would pass public financing of elections for congressional campaigns, and a whole bunch of other ethics reforms as well. It’s a number one priority. But I’m willing to go so far as to say that a big change in my package of democracy reform I would be advocating for now is the expansion of the Supreme Court and the federal court in every single circuit. This is imperative for our democracy. In fact, I’m not so sure what that court would do if we pass HR 1 without trying to reform the Court. We know from history that FDR tried this and failed. But times are different, and it will only succeed if citizens demand it.
My hope is that, despite the Democrats absolutely bungling the hearings recently in terms of legitimizing that sham proceeding, the shift will come from the grassroots, just like every other reform. Every other major shift in American politics has shown it comes from the grassroots.
If next year, in January, people don’t give up and realize the fight doesn’t end at the voting booth, that we can’t leave our democracy alone and trust it to the elites that don’t safeguard it themselves—and I’m not saying ‘elites’ in a derogatory way; they’re the ones who are supposed to govern us—we’ll realize that we must demand it of them, that we are the people they are accountable to. And we’re going to push you like hell to restore our democracy.
If you weren’t able to attend their event, you can watch it in full here.
About the Panelists
Frances Moore Lappé, author of the multimillion-selling Diet for a Small Planet and seventeen other books, is a recipient of the Right Livelihood Award, the “Alternative Nobel.” She is the coathor of Daring Democracy: Igniting Power, Meaning, and Connection for the America We Want. Follow her on Twitter at @fmlappe and visit her website.
Adam Eichen serves as Campaigns Manager at Equal Citizens and is also a member of the Democracy Matters board of directors. He is coauthor of Daring Democracy: Igniting Power, Meaning, and Connection for the America We Want with Frances Moore Lappé. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamEichen.
David Daley is a senior fellow for FairVote and the author of Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America's Democracy, which helped spark the recent drive to reform gerrymandering. David's new book, Unrigged: How Americans Are Battling Back to Save Democracy, chronicles the victories and defeats in state efforts to reform elections and uphold voting rights. When writing for the Hartford Courant, he helped identify Mark Felt as the “Deep Throat” source for Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.