Democracy: lettuce leaves and assemblies

There is a woman who lives in a neighbourhood in Chicago, who just loves lettuce. She also loves children. Each year she shows the children newly arrived at the local schools how to plant lettuce seeds in the school allotments. 

Once children see something grow from seed, they are ‘hooked’. “What’s next?”, they ask. At that moment she offers them a wide range of lettuce seeds to bring home, “why not try growing them in your neighbourhood?”

Not all children do, but most engage in some form of urban gardening. It’s an urban neighbourhood, so green space is at a premium. Nevertheless, outposts are found. She’s a local lady, well connected into community life in general; deeply trusted by her neighbours, and she’s been around a while. So when the children arrive home and say “Mrs. Locke gave me these”, parents know what it means. This is not homework. There is no place for this on the curriculum. This is the ‘community way’ around there. Many of those parents when they were five received a similar bag of seeds, from Mrs. Locke, with the same invitation attached. Go grow these at home or in your neighbourhood, and see what happens. 

She’s a savvy lady, and she gets that sometimes that growing lettuce requires the help of a neighbour, or a grandparent. But mostly she knows how to support these children and their families to grow a head of luscious lettuce. Then she invites everyone in the neighbourhood to a lettuce party. She is not paid to do this, she came into the world made that way and will leave that way. 

Now what has that got to do with democracy?

Well, if we think about democracy as being citizen centred, instead of our dominant view of democracy as being a government centric way of distributing power, then it has a lot to do with democracy. 

That is the subject of this week’s video blog. Below is a webinar that explores this theme, entitled: Ego v’s Eco.

The webinar is part supported by the Assemblies for Democracy and 38 Degrees. I will be speaking at London assembly this weekend March 28th and at the Manchester event on April 18th.


Since Kleisthenes, who brought to Athens in 570BC what the Athenians in due course came to call democracy, in one way or another people have reflected on their social geography and the functions of their institutions. After the Athenian experiment, Democracy largely fell out of coinage for near 2,000 years. The American experiment and the French Revolution were to herald back in a term that has become almost sanctified. But have we ever really seen citizens centred, deep democracy? 

So what does Democracy mean anyway? And how can we grow it in a way that will enable citizenship for all, and the planet, to prevail? Come join these assemblies, or if you can’t be physically present, join us online to explore these and other questions.

Cormac Russell  

A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in”. Greek proverb. 

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