Patel’s solution is one of radical democracy, but radical only when compared to our current celebrity political culture. Instead of voting for our favorite overlord every four years, citizens should be organizing and taking an active role in establishing the rules that govern their own lives. These kinds of societies have existed before, and exist today. Patel’s primary models are ancient Athenians and the contemporary Zapatistas. For the Zapatistas, democracy is a way of life, rather than a rare and unpleasant ritual.
We’ve lived so long under the spell of hierarchy—from god-kings to feudal lords to party bosses—that only recently have we awakened to see not only that “regular” citizens have the capacity for self-governance, but that without their engagement our huge global crises cannot be addressed. The changes needed for human society simply to survive, let alone thrive, are so profound that the only way we will move toward them is if we ourselves, regular citizens, feel meaningful ownership of solutions through direct engagement. Our problems are too big, interrelated, and pervasive to yield to directives from on high.
—Frances Moore Lappé, excerpt from Time for Progressives to Grow Up