Oct. 20, 2005 • Volume 14 Number 4

BC's Derber Says Time Is Ripe to 'Save Democracy'

Sociologist and author to speak at 'Writers Among Us' event next week

By Sean Smith
Chronicle Editor

It hasn't exactly been a glorious fall, says Prof. Charles Derber (Sociology): Political, social and economic controversies raised by Hurricane Katrina, charges of cronyism and scandal in Washington, among other things, have many Americans - already beset by concerns about the war in Iraq and the national economy - wondering about the country's direction and what, if any, power they have to shape it.

"If there was ever a time which showed the importance of, and the need for, a grassroots democracy movement, this is it," said Derber in a recent interview. "We have a political class that is separate, even insulated, from the values and needs of the American population. Americans of all party affiliations feel increasingly alienated from the political process."

Derber says his recent book, Hidden Power: What You Need to Know to Save Our Democracy, is a response to the doubts, uncertainty and anxiety over the country's future. It also will be the basis for his talk, "Exposing America's Hidden Power Brokers and Revitalizing the Democratic Party," presented on Oct. 26 as part of the University's "Writers Among Us" series. The event will take place at 7:30 p.m. in Devlin 101 and is sponsored by Boston College Magazine and the BC Bookstore.

The book's purpose is to "pull back the curtain" on the hidden power of the entrenched social forces and institutions that govern the US, he says. But Derber also seeks to affirm the power of ordinary Americans to effect meaningful change through political participation and dissent - elements of a democratic tradition he says has been repressed and forgotten.

As in his other recent books, People Before Profit and Regime Change Begins at Home, Derber trains his eye on what he describes as a "corporate regime" wielding enormous influence and power in the US, and intertwined with the country's political leadership, media, military, as well as schools and hospitals.

Discerning truth from propaganda is difficult in part because "a corporatized government and media work to create and market some of the world's most sophisticated deceptions and illusions," he says. The volume of democratic rhetoric and procedure in American society only encourages citizens' perception of democracy, and change itself, as being limited to "throwing the bums out of office.

"Because people barely see the shadows of this ruling system, it is even harder for them to see their own hidden power to create regime change," he says.

But no regime is completely invulnerable, adds Derber, who subsequently describes some of the "cracks" that have appeared of late - such as the war in Iraq - and discusses the prospects and strategies for citizens to recapture the democratic tradition and, in so doing, "save democracy."

Although part of Derber's talk will focus on the Democratic Party's effectiveness in confronting the "corporate regime," he says that the grassroots democracy movement can, and should, be conceived as reaching across partisan and ideological lines.

"America is polarized in a number of respects, but poll after poll shows a convergence of opinion on issues like the war, the national debt, health care, and so on. So what needs to happen is to mobilize everyone - Democrat, Republican, liberal, conservative, moderate - into the political arena. Our forefathers envisioned a 'public space' in this democracy, and we need to reclaim that space from the political class."

For more information on the "Writers Among Us" series, call ext.2-4820.

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