Our elite class system is the predominant political and social force in our country at this time. And it has been that way since the beginning of not only our country but virtually all Western societies.
In spite of this America is rich in democratic practices, attitudes, dispositions, organizations, systems, traditions, and committed people. In order to grow our democracy we must use and develop all of these resources as well as create more powerful ones.
In this section we list significant organizations and people who are behind growing our democracy, not just fixing what we have. Our list has four categories: Culture, Group Dynamics, Organizing, and Practice.
We see these as the four key elements in building a long-term democracy movement driven by everyday people in all of our diversity. These four categories are also the primary areas of concentration in our Growing Democracy Learning Labs.
We have begun this list in September 2023, and will add to it continuously. Please contact us if there are people or organizations you think belong on our lists, and tell us why.
Thank you and enjoy your explorations of our resources.
Few people have promoted and developed an understanding of the powerful social learning tool called the “community of practice” as Wenger has. He has done the job so well that the GDProject sees the basic unit for growing democracy in any location and at whatever scale to be what we call the Transformative Community of Democratic Practice.
Here’s one way he describes it: “A community of practice is a bit like a romantic relationship. It is as fragile and as resilient. It is as dependent on the personal engagement of members, on their social connections, and on their sense of individual and collective identity. And it requires as much care. Like the growth of a couple, the development of a community is a delicate process involving interpersonal dynamics, trust, and mutual commitment—and resulting in a new social entity.”
His website is a complete library of his work on the CofP. He also shares a good bit of his life story there.
An excerpt from a book he co-wrote with Richard McDermott and William M. Snyder is in The Project section here on our website: Seven Principles for Cultivating Communities of Practice.
Parker Palmer’s book, HEALING THE HEART OF DEMOCRACY: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of The Human Spirit, was a major inspiration for the Growing Democracy Project. He practically lays out our whole transformative program:
“When we choose to engage, not evade, the tension of our differences, we will become better equipped to participate in a government of, by, and for the people as we expand some of our key civic capacities:
- To listen to each other openly and without fear, learning how much we have in common despite our differences
- To deepen our empathy for the alien “other” as we enter imaginatively into the experiences of people whose lives are radically unlike our own
- To hold what we believe and know with conviction and be willing to listen openly to other viewpoints, changing our minds if needed
- To seek out alternative facts and explanations whenever we find reason to doubt our own truth claims or the claims made by others, thus becoming better informed
- To probe, question, explore, and engage in dialogue, developing a fuller, more three-dimensional view of reality in the process
- To enter the conflicted arena of politics, able to hold the dynamics of that complex force field in ways that unite the civic community and empower us to hold government accountable to the will of the people
- To welcome opportunities to participate in collective problem solving and decision making, generating better solutions and making better decisions as we work with competing ideas
- to feel more at home on the face of the earth amid differences of many sorts, better able to enjoy the fruits of diversity.”
As a legendary author he has this to say about his legacy: “What’s important to me is the way people have taken my words into their own lives in their own way—and then carried all of that into communities, institutions and the larger society. Without the deep, long-term partnership I’ve had with the Center for Courage & Renewal, none of that would have happened on the scale it has. I’m forever grateful for this gift of colleagues, friends and fellow travelers.”
The Wikipedia entry captures the breadth of her work that explores loving, courage, vulnerability, shame, empathy, and leadership. She does not focus on practice itself, but rather on the core stuff that transformative democratic practice seeks to develop.
Two short statements from her website says a lot about her approach to her transformative work:
“I’m not here to make people comfortable or to be liked. My purpose is to know and experience love. This means excavating the unsaid. In the world and in me.”
“Cultivating meaningful connection is a daring and vulnerable practice—and one that isn’t possible without being a good steward of the stories we tell and the stories we hear.”
PM is an international organization of trainers and coaches. They offer a wide range and basic and original trainings, services, and resources.
Their website self-description has a flavor all their own:
“Possibility Management is upgraded thoughtware for catalyzing change and expansion in various inner and outer domains. It works by converting problems into fertilizer, doorways, rocket ships, or avoidable mud puddles along your path of evolution.
Possibility Management springs from the context of radical responsibility. With new thoughtware and a new way of living you can create completely new results without changing your circumstances.
Possibility Management builds bridges between modern culture which brings humanity to its limits, and the next cultures which are regenerative.Possibility Management is copyleft and open-code thoughtware.”
Center for Courage & Renewal
From their website: “Through Circle of Trust® retreats and other programs rooted in the Courage & Renewal® approach, we nurture supportive communities of reflection and practice to help people come alive with a renewed sense of purpose, build trustworthy relationships, and cultivate the courage to rise to today’s challenges, making a difference within themselves and their communities.”
Parker Palmer is a founder of the Center. See our entry about him in the People subsection of this section.
He was best known for writing Democratic Promise: The Populist Moment in America, a book about the largest democratic movement in American history. The Populist Moment: A Short History of the Agrarian Revolt in America, is the abridged version. It became a staple in university history seminars, labor organizing institutes and community activism efforts for years to come.
The Populist Moment - Introduction captures the core of his perspective on the struggle of democracy in our country. Organizing Democracy: The limits of theory and practice (2015) outlines a relational strategy for achieving a politically democratic presence in society.
His 2015 article, “Organizing Democracy: The limits of theory and practice,” pretty much condenses his deep and dynamic understanding of what it will take to build a democratic society.
In 1991 he published Breaking the Barrier: the Rise of Solidarity in Poland. It’s vintage Goodwy. Solidarnosc was the first successful challenge to the Leninist state--the shipworker's strike which began in Gdansk, and which led to the formation of the first free and independent trade union in the communist world, Solidarnosc.
Goodwyn provides a fascinating history of that movement, tracing thirty-five years of working class activism and state repression that preceded and defined the climactic struggle of 1980 on the Baltic coast of Poland.