Giving Compass' Take:

· The authors address the significant role community organizers play in bringing together a civil society and creating an inclusive collective to renew democracy.

· How has civil society come under attack recently? How can we rebuild democracy to be more inclusive and equitable?  

· Read more about civil society and democracy

The promise of American democracy is at greater risk than at any time since the 1930s. Among the most important factors of America’s democracy crisis is an acute erosion in the power of civil society to assert its influence on both government and private wealth.

Since the dawn of the republic, civil society has served as the principal source of the collective capacity to engage effectively in democratic politics. Creating this capacity required what Alexis de Tocqueville, in Democracy in America, described as “knowledge of how to combine”: leadership practices people learn to transform individual self-interests into common interests, build bonds of solidarity, and acquire skills of democratic self-governance, including deliberation, decision making, accountability, strategizing, and taking action.

Within the context of a democratic state, civil society is a vital source of autonomous power dependent neither on government nor on private wealth—but it is capable of influencing both. This requires turning individual resources into collective power, often through the mechanism of government. Political scientist Sidney Verba once observed that liberal democracy is a gamble that equality of voice can balance inequality of resources. Inequality of power—especially political power—can cripple democratic practice even more than inequality of wealth. In the American context, racism has often been used by economic elites as a weapon of division to hold on to political power to realize economic gain. This also influenced the creation of antidemocratic electoral institutions—the electoral college, the US Senate, and noncompetitive “first by the post” legislative districts—that privilege rural over urban, acres of land over numbers of people, white people over everyone else, and the past over the future. This has increasingly yielded political representation that is sharply divergent from the trajectory of American demographic, geographic, and occupational growth and development.

Read the full article about renewing democracy by Marshall Ganz and Art Reyes III at Stanford Social Innovation Review.