A little background:

My wife and I were active in a left organization 20 years ago called Radical Therapy (actually, that's where we met). Radical Therapy was a movement to combine the personal and the political. It held an annual Midwest Radical Therapy conference at Camp Hantesa in Boone, Iowa for a number of years.

We both ended up going to an organizing meeting for the next conference only to be greeted, along with the others who had shown up, by a messenger from the previous organizers stating that there had been too much infighting in their group and that they were too burned out to help with the next conference and that whoever showed up would have to decide what was going to happen with the Radical Therapy movement.

Those of us at this meeting had the weekend to decide how to handle the situation. We decided that our first priority was going to be to learn how to get along with one another, after which we could determine whether to do a conference. We worked on our interpersonal skills for two years, at the end of which we held the final Radical Therapy Conference which pulled about 50 people and seemed to be quite successful.

EXCEPT, none of us had an idea of what to do next. We had learned how to get along with one another and combine the personal with the political but we didn't have a coherent vision for the future.

Fast forward to today:

A lot of work has been done in the past 20 years by Progressive people on a vision for the future. It includes such principles as multi-racial, multi-cultural, cross-class democracy that combines progressive politics, spirituality, a nurturing parent morality and, of course, the principle that the personal is political.

But to bring this vision to reality requires a community of people who are willing to carry these ideas to their neighbors, their friends, their relatives, and society in general. Community is needed to support each other in swimming against the tide and for bringing new people into the movement.

I believe that most people don't join a movement because they are impressed by the brilliance or correctness of some abstract political analysis. People are brought into a group for a lot of different reasons: they are looking for a safe place to find a mate, socializing with congenial people, support from people in similar situations, help in parenting; in short, they are looking for community. If the community has a vision for society, the member is then willing to critically entertain it.

The community I am recommending here might be called Practical Democracy. The idea is to redefine democracy in such a way as to implement the spiritual injunction that we are to love one another as ourselves. This removes democracy from the rarefied airs of electoral politics and makes it into something that can be practiced in our daily lives with ourselves and each other, something practical.

We practice democracy with ourselves when we pay attention to our conflicting wants, feelings, needs, thoughts and try to get all of the different parts of us to work together to reach our goals.

We practice democracy with each other when we listen respectfully, affirm the other's feelings, wants, needs and thoughts and let them know what our feelings, wants, needs and thoughts are.

Democracy then becomes extended into the economic, cultural, spiritual, political and other spheres by infusing these same principals of love and respect into those areas.


The first step would seem to be to develop a community of people who are willing to commit to living out democracy in all aspects of their lives. I would expect this community to work by consensus and so to have excellent interpersonal and intra-personal skills. I would expect it to be diverse racially, culturally, and socially, inclusive rather than exclusive, and diligent in recruiting new members. This view of democracy is ultimately for a society, not just for a small, defensive group.

This community would have education/training built into each community meeting – half an hour of presentation and discussion preceding any business.

Each community would have theme groups that would deal with issues of particular interest – the environment, labor, prisons, culture, color issues, gender issues. These groups would meet more often and report back to the general community. All decisions affecting the entire community would be made in the general community meeting.

Ceremony and celebration are an important part of any community. Each meeting could open with a minute of silence for recollection and to clear our minds for the upcoming work. Community celebrations could be scheduled regularly: potlucks, parties, and picnics celebrating ordinary and extraordinary people.

To promote the spread of these ideas, door-to-door voter registration drives can be held. Each conversation with a voter allows for opening up topics such as jobs, schools, streets, health care, city budget, county and state budget, the environment, etc. The voting records of local, state and federal officials can be discussed. This could possibly be used as a way to start or revive neighborhood associations in areas where that is needed, or just start new Practical Democracy communities to work on issues that seem relevant to a given area.


In this era when democracy is under intense attack on a number of fronts there would seem to be a need for dedicated defenders of democracy to come forward. And democracy is not defended simply by protecting the right to vote (although that is essential); there needs to be a defense of all the things that are implied by democracy. There need to be people who are clear that democracy does not mean free-market capitalism, nor global corporate domination. There need to be people who declare that democracy does mean love, strength and creativity.