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The coat rack held a cross-section of Vermont outerwear—fancier dress coats, parkas smeared with that gray muck we all get from bumping into our cars, and a good number of gritty Carhartt jackets. I was swept up in the national celebration, and my giggling all-girl birthday party even went to see the new film, adapted from the musical And in fact, civic infrastructure is what town meeting is all about. Act 46 asks questions about education quality, equity and cost.

But unless the legislature repairs its flaws, its biggest impact may be on democracy.

I’m Looking For…

A well-known optical illusion shows two silhouetted faces in profile looking at each other. It engages us as we focus, and then focus again.

Woden Teachout on "Slow Democracy"

The face? Or the vase?

The potential for either educational benefits or cost savings is hotly debated. But one thing is clear from public reaction: if passed, it would create polarization and push-back for years to come.

Great Places to Start…

What we need is an authentic, heart-to-heart conversation. Fourteen is a magic number at the Vermont Statehouse.

With its 14 counties, Vermont was the 14th state to join the union. This type of direct democracy was hard to transplant to the sparsely populated settlements of the Wild West, though it was revived briefly in the Populist and Progressive movements of the late 19th century.

Slow Democracy: An Antidote to Today’s Money-Corrupted, Corporate-Dominated Politics

Between and , hundreds of thousands of federal, state, and municipal workers gradually took over decisions that were previously made in public meetings. The most dramatic success Clark and Teachout describe is when the residents of Gloucester Massachusetts ousted Suez, the French multinational that ran their water supply, and galvanized the community to start their own water company.


Through a similar process, the residents of Boulder Colorado replaced coal-based Xcel Energy with their own renewables-based electric company. Slow Democracy also describes the multiple successes of the local sovereignty movement in which the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund has helped communities in the Northeast and on the West Coast pass ordinances banning hog farms, toxic sludge, fracking, GE crops, and aquifer depletion for bottled water plants.

For me the most valuable chapter was about the Yale Law School Cultural Cognition Project and other tools to enhance effective deliberation among groups with opposing political views. The authors begin by dispelling the myth that the US is hopelessly split into left-right ideologues. In the Cultural Cognition Project interviewed a random sample of 5, Americans.

SLOW DEMOCRACY by Susan Clark , Woden Teachout | Kirkus Reviews

Instead their core beliefs could be plotted on a two dimensional grid depending on their views about hierarchical authority vs egalitarianism and individualism vs collective responsibility. The study results are available at Cultural Cognition Project. It turns out that living in the same community causes residents to share many of the same concerns, despite profound differences in their worldview.

Clark and Teachout give examples of successful community conversations between groups with opposing views on climate change, the Israel-Palestine conflict and abortion. All were successful in finding some areas of agreement, while simultaneously discovering the media was playing a major role in fanning the clash between them.

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