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, we are continuing the series into 2017. Broadcasts may be heard live from 10:00 to 11:00 a.m. on the third Friday of the month beginning on January 20. 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 programs from 2016 and 2017.

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

June 16 -- Jobs in Maine: What's the Future?

"There are stories -- legends, really -- of the 'steady job.' Old-timers ... tell stories of how the company used to be, back when a job was for life,... The graduates snicker. A steady job! They've never heard of such a thing." -- ― Australian author Max Barry, from his novel, Company

We'll talk about global changes in employment and the nature of work, the shifting demographics of jobs, barriers to work, and what it means for Maine. We'll take listener calls during the second half of the show.

In case you missed it live, you can listen to this show from the archive at weru.org.

Special Guests:

Jim Breece, Associate Professor of Economics, University of Maine, Orono.
Rosalie Hughes, investigative reporter for the Bangor Daily News and contributor to the Maine Focus series on Forgotten Maine Workers.
Beth Stickney, Executive Direction of the Maine Business Immigration Coalition.

Key Topics:

  • What have been the global trends in jobs over the last 25 years and how have those trends affected Maine workers?
  • What are some examples of shifts in income and employment opportunities in Maine?
  • What are some barriers to full employment?
  • Can Maine businesses find enough workers?
  • Can Maine workers find good jobs?
  • What role does immigration play in Maine?
  • Are there evidence-based policies that can help?
  • How can ordinary citizens play a role?

To learn more, follow these links to related articles and essays:

May 19 -- Free Trade: Winners and Losers in Maine

"No nation was ever ruined by trade. " -- Benjamin Franklin

We'll talk about international trade policy, how does it work, who sets the rules, and what does it mean for Maine? We'll take listener calls during the second half of the show.

In case you missed it live, you can listen to this show from the archive at weru.org.

Special Guest:

Catherine Reilly deLutio, co-founder of 45 North Research. Kate has previously served as Senior Research Associate at the University of Maine's Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center. She also served as Maine's State Economist from 2005 to 2009. We'll take listener calls during the second half of the show.

Key Topics:

  • What is the history of international trade in the U.S. going back to our founding?
  • What are some examples of trade disputes from our past?
  • What are the global trends that are affecting trade today?
  • What's the difference between "free trade" and "fair trade?"
  • How do Maine businesses go about selling their products in other countries?
  • What powers are invested in the various branches of the federal government? What role do states play?
  • How can citizens play a role?

To learn more, follow these links to related articles and essays:

April 21 - Fake News: Who Can You Trust?

"...It's not the lies that count but the muddying. When citizens can't tell real news from fake, they give up their demands for accountability bit by bit." Naomi Wolf

We'll talk about the proliferation of news sources in the internet age, the role of independent journalism in a liberal democracy, and the challenges for citizens in finding real news. We'll take listener calls during the second half of the show.

In case you missed it live, you can listen to this show from the archive at weru.org.

Special Guests:

  • John Christie, co-founder and senior editor for the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting.
  • Naomi Schalit, co-founder and senior reporter for the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting.
  • Melissa Zimdars, assistant professor of communication at Merrimack College in Massachusetts.

Key Topics:
  • What are the global trends that are affecting journalism and news in the internet age?
  • What is the history of professional standards in journalism? Do these standards still apply?
  • What's the difference between "fake news" and news with a point of view? Is there a liberal or conservative bias? Does that mean those sources are not trustworthy?
  • How can citizens keep abreast of these trends and find reliable sources of fact-based information -- if they want it?

To learn more, follow these links to related articles and essays:

March 17 - Two Maines: Can We Bridge the Divide?

"There is no Them. There are only facets of Us." ― author John Green

We'll talk about the cultural, demographic, and economic differences that define the two Maines and how those differences are sharpening political differences. Are there only two Maines? Can we bridge the divide? We'll take listener calls during the second half of the show.

In case you missed it live, you can listen to this show from the archive at weru.org.

Special Guests:

  • Alan Caron is the owner of Caron Communications and the author of "Maine's next Economy" and "Reinventing Maine's Government"
  • Erin Rhoda is the editor of Maine Focus, an award-winning journalism and community engagement initiative at the Bangor Daily News.
  • Matt Stone is a journalist and writer on the Bangor Daily News Maine Focus team.

Key Topics:
  • When discussing the "Two Maines," which two are we talking about? Where is the boundary? Are there only two?
  • What is the origin of the two Maines? How far back in our history does it go? What s the essence of the difference between the two?
  • What biases and values infect our perceptions about each other? How true are they?
  • What economic and cultural differences are at play? Is Maine's duality different from what we read about in other states or across the country?

To learn more, follow these links to related articles and essays:

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

February 17 -- Ballot Questions in Maine: Whose Initiatives Are They?

"The most important political office is that of the private citizen." -- Louis D. Brandeis

We'll discuss what happened in the recent election, what our constitution provides, and what role the legislature and the governor are playing now. We'll take listener calls during the second half of the show.

In case you missed it live, you can listen to this show from the archive at weru.org.

Special Guests:

  • John Brautigam, former Maine legislator and Assistant Attorney General, now serving on the board of the League of Women Voters of Maine.
  • Ronald Schmidt Associate Professor of Political Science at USM.

Key Topics:
  • What is the history of the citizens initiative and peoples veto in Maine? Have these provisions always been part of the Maine constitution? How have they been exercised historically?
  • How does the process work? Where do the questions come from? Who pays for the campaigns?
  • What's happening with the four questions that just passed? What actions are required of the legislature and the governor? What other measures are they contemplating?
  • Are there problems with the current process? What measures is the legislature considering to change or restrict the citizen initiative process?

To learn more, follow these links to related articles and essays:

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

January 20: The Civic Mission of Public Education

"Our children should learn the general framework of their government and ... where it touches their daily lives.... It must not be a distant thing, someone else's business ... They must see how every cog in the wheel of a democracy is important and bears its share of responsibility for the smooth running of the entire machine." -- Eleanor Roosevelt

We'll discuss whether inequities in public education and the failure of public schools to prepare some children for citizenship contribute to political inequality.

In case you missed it live, you can listen to this show from the archive at weru.org.

Special Guests:

  • Meira Levinson, Professor of Education at Harvard Graduate School of Education. She previously spent eight years as a teacher in the Atlanta and Boston Public Schools. Her book 2012, No Citizen Left Behind, has been called "a forthright defense of schools as institutions for teaching about democracy and justice" by Education Week blog.
  • Bill Richards, a Maine educator with diverse experience in Maine public education. He currently serves as Interim Superintendent, Rangeley Lakes Regional Schools. He formerly served as Associate Commissioner of Instruction during the McKernan administration. He has also been the superintendent of schools in a number of school districts and served as a school board member.

Key Topics:
  • What is the history of universal public education and how is it linked to universal suffrage and ideas about democracy?
  • Has there been a decline in civic education? Or an evolution in what constitutes civics instruction?
  • What do kids typically learn about how government and democracy work in Maine and in the United States?
  • What do citizens need to learn to be effective in civic life?
  • In what ways do disparities in the quality of education among school systems widen empowerment gaps between rich and poor children?
  • Why does any of this matter to us here in Maine?
  • What can citizens do to encourage full voter participation?

To learn more, follow these links to related articles and essays:

November 18: Election Reflections

"The best way to to predict the future is to create it" --- Abraham Lincoln

Election 2016 was one for the history books. What just happened? What role did voter suppression played in the outcome? What role did hyper-partisanship play here in Maine and nationally? What does it mean for the future of democracy?

Special Guests:

Listen to the conversation from the archive WERU

October 21: Ballot Questions in Maine

"There will never be a true democracy until every responsible...adult in it, without regard to race, sex, color or creed has his or her own...voice in government. " -- Carrie Chapman Catt

We'll discuss the ballot questions in Maine this year, how the process works, what the questions mean, and how citizen initiatives fit into a representative versus a direct democracy.

Special Guests:

  • Amy Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her current research involves an examination of how conservatives promoted distrust in government in the Tea Party age.
  • Jill Goldthwait, is a former Maine State Senator and award-winning political columnist for the Ellsworth American and the Mount Desert Islander.

Key Topics:

  • What is the history of the citizen initiative process in Maine? When was it added to the constitution and how has it been used?
  • Have there been more initiatives recently than in the past?
  • The citizen initiative is an exercise in direct democracy. How does this contrast with representative democracy? What are the arguments in favor of each?
  • What do citizens need to know about the questions on the ballot this year?
  • Where can voters learn more?
  • What can citizens do to encourage full voter participation?

Listen to this show from the archive at weru.org.

To learn more, follow these links to related articles and essays:

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

September 16: The Civic Mission of Public Education

"Our children should learn the general framework of their government and ... where it touches their daily lives.... It must not be a distant thing, someone else's business ... They must see how every cog in the wheel of a democracy is important and bears its share of responsibility for the smooth running of the entire machine." -- Eleanor Roosevelt

We'll discuss whether inequities in public education and the failure of public schools to prepare some children for citizenship contribute to political inequality.

Special Guests:

  • Meira Levinson, Professor of Education at Harvard Graduate School of Education. She previously spent eight years as a teacher in the Atlanta and Boston Public Schools. Her book 2012, No Citizen Left Behind, has been called "a forthright defense of schools as institutions for teaching about democracy and justice" by Education Week blog.
  • Bill Richards, a Maine educator with diverse experience in Maine public education. He currently serves as Interim Superintendent, Rangeley Lakes Regional Schools. He formerly served as Associate Commissioner of Instruction during the McKernan administration. He has also been the superintendent of schools in a number of school districts and served as a school board member.

Key Topics:
  • What is the history of universal public education and how is it linked to universal suffrage and ideas about democracy?
  • Has there been a decline in civic education? Or an evolution in what constitutes civics instruction?
  • What do kids typically learn about how government and democracy work in Maine and in the United States?
  • What do citizens need to learn to be effective in civic life?
  • In what ways do disparities in the quality of education among school systems widen empowerment gaps between rich and poor children?
  • Why does any of this matter to us here in Maine?
  • What can citizens do to encourage full voter participation?

Listen to this show from the archive at weru.org. Due to technical difficulties at WERU, this program aired for just 30 minutes instead of the full hour.

To learn more, follow these links to related articles and essays:

August 19: Voter Participation: Obstacles and Opportunities

CANCELLED

"[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:

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 weru.org

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 weru.org

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 weru.org

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 weru.org

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 weru.org

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 weru.org