Making Democracy Work

Democracy Forum

Talk radio with LWVME

Democracy Forum on WERU FM Community Radio

Beginning in 2004 and every four years since, the League of Women Voters - Downeast in cooperation with WERU FM has produced and sponsored a series of radio programs on topics in participatory democracy called the Democracy Forum.

This year, broadcasts may be heard live from 10:00 to 11:00 a.m. on the third Friday of the month beginning on February 19. Listen live at WERU Community Radio, 89.9 FM Blue Hill, 99.9 FM Bangor, streaming live on the web at WERU FM.

Here is information about upcoming programs in 2016.

Programs from the 2012 archive and the 2008 archive are also available online.

August 19: Voter Participation: Obstacles and Opportunities


"[I]t is a weak point in the theory of representative government as now organized and administered, that a large portion of the voting people are permanently disenfranchised." -- James Garfield, U.S. President (1881)

We'll discuss recent developments in voter rights around the country, what are the new and continuing obstacles to full voter participation, and what opportunities exist for citizens to eliminate obstacles and encourage everyone to participate.

Special Guests:

Key Topics:
  • The recent history of voting rights in states around the country
  • What has changed since 2010?
  • What is the history of the Voting Rights Act, and what is its current status?
  • How does redistricting work and why should we care?
  • How does "gerrymandering" affect voting rights?
  • What court cases are pending or recently decided?
  • Why does any of this matter to us here in Maine?
  • What can citizens do to encourage full voter participaton?

To learn more, follow these links to related articles and essays that were mentioned on the show:

Listen to the conversation at community radio WERU FM, 89.9 Blue Hill, 99.9 Bangor, streaming live at

Read about and listen to past programs from the League archive.

July 15: Privatizing Public Policy: Is Philanthropy Good for Democracy?

"It's not a democracy. It's not even a constitutional monarchy. It's about what Bill and Melinda want." -- Gregg Gonsalves, Co-Founder of the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition, talking about the Gates Foundation and its influence over the global health landscape.

We'll discuss philanthropy, foundations, shadow networks, and the private drivers of public policy from the Koch Brothers to the Gates-inspired Giving Pledge. Do the tax structures that allow the accumulation of great wealth and the tax incentives that encourage charitable giving underwrite a system in which money that might otherwise be appropriated in a democratic process to serve broad public interests, is instead deployed to serve the private interests and priorities of a few wealthy donors?

Special Guests:

  • Theda Skocpol, Victor S. Thomas Professor of Government and Sociology, Harvard University.
  • Alec MacGillis, who covers politics and government for ProPublica.

Key Topics:
  • To what extent is a libertarian world-view pushing down taxes and reducing the size of government while increasing concentrations of private wealth? Has there also been an increase in charitable and public-benefit giving?
  • Is private generosity displacing public dollars in supporting charitable, educational, research, and other non-governmental institutions? Has this shift in funding created a change in priorities for these dollars?
  • How much of this private giving is transparent? Can we tell where the money is going and to what ends?
  • Government bureaucracy has a terrible reputation for waste and fraud. Is this kind of philanthropy more effective? Does it get the job done? Could the public sector spend the money more effectively?
  • Whose interests are being served? Is this good for democracy? What can citizens do?

Listen to this show from the archive at

To learn more, follow these links to related articles and essays that were mentioned on the show:

June 17: Press or Propaganda: Corporate Media, a Free Speech, Free Press, and the Future of Democracy

"It may not be good for America, but it's damn good for CBS. " -- Leslie Moonves, Chairman of CBS, on the nature of Donald Trump's campaign, February, 2016.

We'll discuss the tension between corporate, profit-motivated ownership of mainstream media and the public interest mission served by journalism in an open democracy. What roles are old and new media playing in forming an educated electorate in 21st century America?

Special Guests:

  • John Christie, co-founder and senior editor for the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting.
  • Michael Franz, Associate Professor at Bowdoin College and co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project.

Key Topics:
  • Media consolidation and corporate ownership of media have been increasing to where just 6 corporations now own 90% of the media in America. What effect is that having on Americans' access to current affairs reporting?
  • At the same time, the number of new providers and the pathways for delivery are now so numerous and varied that it's hard for anyone to keep track or find a trusted source. Are we better-informed for all of that?
  • The long-held belief in a liberal media bias has been challenged by the success of Fox News and the like. Is this kind of POV media a new phenomenon in American journalism? Which side is winning?
  • What happens when the ultra-rich like Sheldon Adelson, Rupert Murdoch, and Jeffrey Bezos start buying up news outlets?
  • Is this good for democracy? What can citizens do?

Listen to this show from the archive at

To learn more, follow these links to articles and essays that were mentioned on the show:

May 20: Us vs Them: Is Government the Enemy

"The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government, and I'm here to help." -- Ronald Reagan, August 12, 1986.

We'll discuss the history and cultural origins of American attitudes toward government, how these attitudes have evolved over time, and whether these attitudes have been purposefully amplified by vested interests.

Special Guests:

Key Topics:
  • What are the origins of anti-government sentiment in American history and culture?
  • In what ways is government the enemy of freedom and liberty? In what ways is government the protector of freedom and liberty?
  • How have public attitudes changed over time and what forces have been at work to effect those changes?
  • Is this good for democracy? What can citizens do?

Listen to this show from the archive at

To learn more, follow these links to articles and essays that were mentioned on the show:

April 15: Moochers and Freeloaders: Welfare for the Rich, Welfare for the Poor

The death-knell of the republic had rung as soon as the active power became lodged in the hands of those who sought, not to do justice to all citizens, rich and poor alike, but to stand for one special class and for its interests as opposed to the interests of others. -- Theodore Roosevelt

Special Guests:

Key Topics:
  • What's the difference between capitalism and "crony capitalism?"
  • How much money is the government giving away in welfare to the poor? To the rich? And to corporations?
  • How has the anti-moocher message been so successful?
  • Is this good for democracy? What can citizens do?

Listen to this show from the archive at

To learn more, follow these links to articles and essays that were mentioned on the show:

March 18: Whose Democracy Is It: Wealth and Income Inequality, Money in Politics

We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both. -- Associate Justice Louis Brandeis

Special Guests:

  • Mark Schmitt, Director, Political Reform Program, New America
  • Tony Corrado, nonresident senior fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution and Professor of Government at Colby College

Key Topics:
  • How are income inequality and political inequality tied together? Or are they?
  • We still have the vote. Doesn't that mean the people still rule?
  • Does it harm democracy if rich people rule?
  • If it's not practical or wise to eliminate these disparities, do we have a problem?
  • Is this good for democracy? What can citizens do?

Listen to this show from the archive at

February 19 - Political Equality: The Founding Vision, the Modern Reality

Who are to be the electors of the federal representative? Not the rich, more than the poor; not the learned, more than the ignorant; not the haughty heirs of distinguished names, more than the humble sons of obscurity and unpropitious fortune. The electors are to be the great body of the people of the United States. -- James Madison, Federalist 57

  • What do we mean when we talk about political equality?
  • Was it an ideal embraced by our founding fathers?
  • What did it mean to them? What does it mean to us today?
  • To what extent has the founding ideal been realized or thwarted?

Special Guests:
  • Ralph Ketcham, Maxwell Professor Emeritus of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University.
  • Mark Brewer, Professor and Interim Department Chair of Political Science at the University of Maine.

Listen to this show from the archive at