Strengthening Democracy: Lessons from Frances Moore Lappé
1987 Right Livelihood Laureate Frances Moore Lappé, known for her ground-breaking analysis of the political and economic causes of world hunger, shares insights on strengthening democracy in the United States. With a career spanning over five decades, Lappé has been a leading advocate for democratic principles and empowering citizens to enact change.
Lappé’s career began when she set out to understand the roots of food scarcity. However, her research led to a transformative realisation: the issue was not one of food scarcity but rather a scarcity of democracy. For Lappé, democracy is both a political system and a framework where everyone has agency in decision-making processes.
“Democracy at its base means everybody has some power, the power is dispersed, but we all have some voice,” said Lappé in an interview with Right Livelihood. “No one wants to starve. If there are people without food, that means that they have been silenced. That means that our democracy is deeply, deeply flawed.”
In her current work, Lappé focuses on unveiling the realities of democracy in the United States.
Despite being a self-proclaimed “possibilist”, she was surprised to discover that the country ranks dismally low in global democracy indices. She is particularly concerned with the influence of concentrated wealth on American democracy, describing the current economic system as “brutal capitalism”.
“Our system is driving everything to do what brings the highest return to existing wealth,” said Lappé.
Lappé is also troubled by the disproportionate influence of powerful, rightwing figures like the Koch brothers in shaping public discourse. She notes their significant investments in higher education and climate denialism, highlighting the pervasive impact of corporate interests on critical issues.
The Koch brothers, Charles and the late David, inherited a massive fortune from their father’s oil refining business and expanded their wealth through Koch Industries, one of the largest privately held companies in the world. They deploy their immense resources to fund climate change denial campaigns, oppose environmental regulations, and support policies that favour the wealthy elite.
Amidst these challenges, Lappé remains inspired by grassroots movements and innovative approaches to civic engagement across the US. She admires initiatives like voter registration drives at sports events, citing them as effective strategies to reach diverse communities and encourage participation in the democratic process.
Lappé emphasises the role of courage in overcoming current challenges to the democratic process in the United States, encouraging individuals to embrace their power to affect change.
“Fear is pure energy, we can use it as we choose,” said Lappé.
Looking ahead to the upcoming 2024 presidential elections, Lappé highlighted the importance of collective action and community organising. She recommended organisations like Indivisible, Common Cause, and Equal Citizens as resources for Americans to engage in democracy-building efforts.
Lappé calls for a shift from viewing democracy as a duty to embracing it as a means of connection and empowerment.
“We evolved as doers,” she said, celebrating the innate human drive for action and collaboration.