Chelsea Green Publishing

Slow Democracy

Pages:280 pages
Size: 6 x 9 inch
Publisher:Chelsea Green Publishing
Paperback: 9781603584135
Pub. Date October 10, 2012

Slow Democracy

Rediscovering Community, Bringing Decision Making Back Home

Availability: In Stock


Available Date:
October 10, 2012


Reconnecting with the sources of decisions that affect us, and with the processes of democracy itself, is at the heart of 21st-century sustainable communities.

Slow Democracy chronicles the ways in which ordinary people have mobilized to find local solutions to local problems. It invites us to bring the advantages of "slow" to our community decision making. Just as slow food encourages chefs and eaters to become more intimately involved with the production of local food, slow democracy encourages us to govern ourselves locally with processes that are inclusive, deliberative, and citizen powered.

Susan Clark and Woden Teachout outline the qualities of real, local decision making and show us the range of ways that communities are breathing new life into participatory democracy around the country. We meet residents who seize back control of their municipal water systems from global corporations, parents who find unique solutions to seemingly divisive school-redistricting issues, and a host of other citizens across the nation who have designed local decision-making systems to solve the problems unique to their area in ways that work best for their communities.

Though rooted in the direct participation that defined our nation's early days, slow democracy is not a romantic vision for reigniting the ways of old. Rather, the strategies outlined here are uniquely suited to 21st-century technologies and culture.If our future holds an increased focus on local food, local energy, and local economy, then surely we will need to improve our skills at local governance as well.


"Slow democracy is the only kind that can take root, because it answers our deepest longings for connection, community, and voice. Clark and Teachout provide compelling examples and guiding principles for nurturing inclusive, participatory communities that work for everyone. Read this book, and then put it into action!"--Martha McCoy, executive director, Everyday Democracy   

"The time is exactly right for a book that takes democracy seriously, and knows where to look for it.  Clark and Teachout recognize that representative democracy must be rooted in the fertile soil of face-to-face, local, problem-solving democracy.  With engaging storytelling skills, they remind us of how vibrant these civic roots still are, and they encourage us to give this democratic garden even greater care and attention, and to enjoy its fruits while we’re at it."--Daniel Kemmis, former mayor of Missoula, Montana; author of Community and the Politics of Place

"Slow Democracy is a lively and significant book. Clark and Teachout use a broad array of stories to illustrate how our democracy is changing, and how we can capitalize on the pressures and opportunities we face in our communities. They describe how carefully structured public engagement can lead, ironically, to faster, better solutions to public problems. Finally, they show how improving local democracy, one place at a time, can add up quickly to much larger national and global impacts."--Matt Leighninger, executive director, Deliberative Democracy Consortium

"It is all too easy to be cynical about the contemporary democratic process. Clark and Teachout provide a roadmap for turning that cynicism into the sort of regionalized action that can improve lives and transform communities. Don't give up on democracy: Read this book and get to work!"--Ben Hewitt, author of The Town that Food Saved and Making Supper Safe


"The "slow" in Slow Democracy doesn't mean decision-making needs to take longer. It's an acknowledgement that investing in inclusive, deliberative, and empowered local decision-making is worth the time. Here are community stories that will fill you with hope for American politics."--Sandy Heierbacher, director, National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation

"Great stories about democracy-showing us that democracy is not what we have but what we do. So if you've been 'looking for hope in all the wrong places,' now you've found one that's right! Enjoy."--Frances Moore Lappé, author of EcoMind: Changing the Way We Think to Create the World We Want

"This is a truly important book: it explains, with copious example and lots of common sense, why democracy works better close to home. If you've begun to think the carrot from the farmer's market tastes better, this volume will lead you (liberal or conservative) down the logical path towards a working society."--Bill McKibben, author of Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future

"Slow Democracy just may be the best thing happening in America today. Connecting in a meaningful way with our community and reclaiming our power as citizens is both powerful and possible. Read this book and consider how this movement can revitalize the communities you care about!"--Joan Blades, cofounder,

ForeWord Reviews-
In the nineteenth century, robust public participation and civic action was part of the American character. By contrast, we currently comprise a “discouraged, democratically anemic citizenry,” feeling disempowered and voiceless when it comes to influencing the outcome of public policy issues that affect us, our cities, towns, and neighborhoods.
  Nevertheless, there is a way out of this morass—it’s called ‘slow democracy.’ Taking its cue from the slow food movement (a global, grassroots effort that links a way of living and a way of eating with a commitment to community and sustainability), slow democracy encourages democratic decision-making at the local level by members of the community. It forgoes the ideological divisions of left vs. right and promotes self-governance through processes that are inclusive, deliberative, and citizen-powered.
  While the notion of wresting power and decision making from the federal level and returning it to citizens and local governments may seem like pie-in-the-sky optimism, activist [Susan] Clark and historian [Woden] Teachout cite numerous places where slow democracy is producing results. In New York City; Chicago; Gloucester, Massachusetts; New Orleans; Portsmouth, New Hampshire; and Hacker Valley, West Virginia “painful issues” like racism and crime and ‘too-hot-to-handle concerns’ like budget cuts, school redistricting, environmental protection, and housing are being addressed by ordinary people committed to citizen engagement and collaborative problem-solving.  Slow Democracy is a user-friendly ‘blueprint for American redemption.’ It inspires the belief that our dwindling democracy can be invigorated. City councilors, town managers, community organizers, politicians, and average Americans will find wisdom in Slow Democracy and will learn strategies to bolster public participation and thus transform our political landscape.

Library Journal-
Clark (All Those in Favor) and Teachout (Union Inst. & Univ.; Capture the Flag) make a strong case for ‘slow democracy’—the inclusive, deliberative, locally based way to reinvigorate American politics. Based on the slow food movement’s principles of localism, community involvement, and sustainability, slow democracy taps the energy, concerns, and common sense of local citizens to improve local decisions. Clark and Teachout explain slow democracy in action, discuss reframing debates to avoid the polarization that passes for politics in the United States, and suggest ways for people to adapt the principles of slow democracy for use in their own political lives. The authors admit that slow democracy takes time—time to gather community members, time for all to tell their stories, and time for citizen groups to find practical and affordable solutions to local problems. VERDICT: This is a convincing argument that time invested in this way benefits everyone in the community and reconnects citizens with their governments and each other. Recommended for anyone interested in being more politically engaged.

Publisher's Weekly-
Making the case for local control and community action while offering plenty of worthwhile advice, community leader Clark and democracy scholar Teachout tell how to get things done in the public sphere. The authors are open about their leftist leanings but make it clear that "slow democracy" is not about partisanship or political labels. On issues including community control of water systems and school re-districting, the authors paint an upbeat picture of participatory democracy. They devote much of the book to success stories, mainly from small cities like Portsmouth, N.H. Intending to be inspirational, sometimes lyrical and crunchy-granola in spirit, Clark and Teachout can resort to the obvious or mundane: "[s]low democracy is about inviting neighbors into community conversations about issues that matter." But readers who instinctively resist suffocating regulations and Big Brother authorities will welcome the book's insights. Clark and Teachout favor a New England-style town-hall political culture that wouldn't last five minutes in Chicago or Los Angeles, yet anyone who wants to reinvigorate grass-roots involvement and moderate top-down rule can benefit from this earnest volume. Activists and organizers will appreciate the useful tips, and Clark and Teachout's community strategies will resonate with both conservatives and progressives.

Kirkus Reviews-
How community deliberative processes can provide an alternative to divisive party politics and technocratic expertise. Community organizer Clark (co-author: All Those in Favor: Rediscovering the Secrets of Town Meeting and Community, 2005) and historian Teachout (Graduate Studies/Union Institute and Univ.; Capture the Flag: A Political History of American Patriotism, 2009, etc.) believe that genuine deliberations by citizens have too often been replaced by top-down political decision-making, in much the same way fast food has been substituted for the genuine article. The authors present case studies in which citizens have come together to solve problems faced by their communities. They cite the city of Portsmouth, N.H., which has won international awards for the way citizens acted together to solve problems confronting their school system when the experts failed. They chronicle citizen transformation of social services, such as Chicago's Police Department, and citizen interventions to take control of municipal or county water supplies. The authors highlight the way Pennsylvanians have organized against fracking through town and county institutions. Each of these cases, they note, was precipitated by a particular set of circumstances that needed to be addressed in a timely way. Clark and Teachout complement their case studies with discussions of useful methodologies to bring people together for common purposes and with a brief history of the New England town meeting format. The major problem local communities face, they write, is outside “efficiency experts” armed with charts and graphs and prepackaged solutions. The authors offer the history of the Appalachian Trail, which runs from Maine to Georgia, as a dramatic example of how “slow politics” works over an extended period of time to build something of lasting value. A valuable tool for improving the way government operates at the local level.


  • Winner - Atlas Awards, 2012 Accomplishments


Susan Clark

Susan Clark is a writer and facilitator focusing on community sustainability and citizen participation. She is an award-winning radio commentator and former talk show co-host. Her democratic activism has earned her broad recognition, including the 2010 Vermont Secretary of State's Enduring Democracy Award.  Clark is the coauthor of Slow Democracy: Rediscovering Community, Bringing Decision Making Back Home (Chelsea Green, 2012), and All Those In Favor: Rediscovering the Secrets of Town Meeting and Community (RavenMark, 2005). Her work strengthening communities has included directing a community activists' network and facilitating town visioning forums. She served as communication and education director of the Vermont Natural Resources Council and Coordinator of the University of Vermont's Environmental Programs In Communities (EPIC) project.  Clark lives in Middlesex, Vermont, where she chairs a committee that encourages citizen involvement, and serves as town-meeting moderator.

Woden Teachout

Woden Teachout is an historian and cultural critic interested in the development of American patriotic culture.  She is currently professor of graduate studies at Union Institute and University and has taught at a number of colleges and universities, including Harvard, Middlebury College, and Goddard College. She is the co-author, with Susan Clark, of Slow Democracy: Rediscovering Community, Bringing Decision Making Back Home (Chelsea Green).


Susan Clark interview


The Wild Wisdom of Weeds

The Wild Wisdom of Weeds

By Katrina Blair

The Wild Wisdom of Weeds is the only book on foraging and edible weeds to focus on the thirteen weeds found all over the world, each of which represents a complete food source and extensive medical pharmacy and first-aid kit.  More than just a field guide to wild edibles, it is a global plan for human survival. 

When Katrina Blair was eleven she had a life-changing experience where wild plants spoke to her, beckoning her to become a champion of their cause. Since then she has spent months on end taking walkabouts in the wild, eating nothing but what she forages, and has become a wild-foods advocate, community activist, gardener, and chef, teaching and presenting internationally about foraging and the healthful lifestyle it promotes. 

Katrina Blair’s philosophy in The Wild Wisdom of Weeds is sobering, realistic, and ultimately optimistic. If we can open our eyes to see the wisdom found in these weeds right under our noses, instead of trying to eradicate an “invasive,” we will achieve true food security. The Wild Wisdom of Weeds is about healing ourselves both in body and in spirit, in an age where technology, commodity agriculture, and processed foods dictate the terms of our intelligence. But if we can become familiar with these thirteen edible survival weeds found all over the world, we will never go hungry, and we will become closer to our own wild human instincts—all the while enjoying the freshest, wildest, and most nutritious food there is. For free!

The thirteen plants found growing in every region across the world are: dandelion, mallow, purslane, plantain, thistle, amaranth, dock, mustard, grass, chickweed, clover, lambsquarter, and knotweed.  These special plants contribute to the regeneration of the earth while supporting the survival of our human species; they grow everywhere where human civilization exists, from the hottest deserts to the Arctic Circle, following the path of human disturbance. Indeed, the more humans disturb the earth and put our food supply at risk, the more these thirteen plants proliferate. It’s a survival plan for the ages.

Including over one hundred unique recipes, Katrina Blair’s book teaches us how to prepare these wild plants from root to seed in soups, salads, slaws, crackers, pestos, seed breads, and seed butters; cereals, green powders, sauerkrauts, smoothies, and milks; first-aid concoctions such as tinctures, teas, salves, and soothers; self-care/beauty products including shampoo, mouthwash, toothpaste (and brush), face masks; and a lot more. Whether readers are based at home or traveling, this book aims to empower individuals to maintain a state of optimal health with minimal cost and effort.    

Available in: Paperback

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The Holistic Orchard

The Holistic Orchard

By Michael Phillips

Many people want to grow fruit on a small scale but lack the insight to be successful orchardists. Growing tree fruits and berries is something virtually anyone with space and passionate desire can do - given wise guidance and a personal commitment to observe the teachings of the trees. A holistic grower knows that producing fruit is not about manipulating nature but more importantly, fostering nature. Orcharding then becomes a fascinating adventure sure to provide your family with all sorts of mouth-watering fruit.

The Holistic Orchard demystifies the basic skills everybody should know about the inner-workings of the orchard ecosystem, as well as orchard design, soil biology, and organic health management. Detailed insights on grafting, planting, pruning, and choosing the right varieties for your climate are also included, along with a step-by-step instructional calendar to guide growers through the entire orchard year. The extensive profiles of pome fruits (apples, pears, asian pears, quinces), stone fruits (cherries, peaches, nectarines, apricots, plums), and berries (raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, gooseberries, currants, and elderberries) will quickly have you savoring the prospects.

Phillips completely changed the conversation about healthy orcharding with his first bestselling book, The Apple Grower, and now he takes that dialogue even further, drawing connections between home orcharding and permaculture; the importance of native pollinators; the world of understory plantings with shade-tolerant berry bushes and other insectary plants; detailed information on cover crops and biodiversity; and the newest research on safe, homegrown solutions to pest and disease challenges.

All along the way, Phillips' expertise and enthusiasm for healthy growing shines through, as does his ability to put the usual horticultural facts into an integrated ecology perspective. This book will inspire beginners as well as provide deeper answers for experienced fruit growers looking for scientific organic approaches. Exciting times lie ahead for those who now have every reason in the world to confidently plant that very first fruit tree!

Available in: Paperback

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Green Light at the End of the Tunnel

Green Light at the End of the Tunnel

By Anna Edey

Heat, electricity, transportation, food, wastewater, and solid-waste management—in ways that cause near-zero harm, reduce cost of living, increase security, freedom, and quality of life.

It is becoming increasingly obvious that the way we are living is not sustainable. We perceive that our high-consumption lifestyles are contributing to ever more pollution of our air, water, and soil; ever more destruction of rain forests and mountains; more devastating hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, and drought; and the depletion of soils and aquifers. Even our planet’s vast oceans are being degraded by overfishing, acidification from fossil fuels, and millions of tons of toxic trash.

Green Light at the End of the Tunnel contains some stunning information about the harm we caused by how we live, and some even more stunning information about solutions that are available today: truly sustainable, reliable solutions that can reduce harm and cost to nearly zero.

Anna Edey, author of Solviva, shows how homeowners can reduce by up to eighty percent the cost of electricity, driving, comfort, hot water and wastewater management, and produce or procure much of their food without the use of fossil fuels or pesticides—all while increasing food security and creating stronger local economies. It also contains fifty pages of unique Solviva designs drawn to scale and many more pages of conceptual drawings.

Available in: Paperback

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Rebuilding the Foodshed

Rebuilding the Foodshed

By Philip Ackerman-Leist

Droves of people have turned to local food as a way to retreat from our broken industrial food system. From rural outposts to city streets, they are sowing, growing, selling, and eating food produced close to home—and they are crying out for agricultural reform. All this has made "local food" into everything from a movement buzzword to the newest darling of food trendsters.

But now it's time to take the conversation to the next level. That's exactly what Philip Ackerman-Leist does in Rebuilding the Foodshed, in which he refocuses the local-food lens on the broad issue of rebuilding regional food systems that can replace the destructive aspects of industrial agriculture, meet food demands affordably and sustainably, and be resilient enough to endure potentially rough times ahead.

Changing our foodscapes raises a host of questions. How far away is local? How do you decide the size and geography of a regional foodshed? How do you tackle tough issues that plague food systems large and small—issues like inefficient transportation, high energy demands, and rampant food waste? How do you grow what you need with minimum environmental impact? And how do you create a foodshed that's resilient enough if fuel grows scarce, weather gets more severe, and traditional supply chains are hampered?

Showcasing some of the most promising, replicable models for growing, processing, and distributing sustainably grown food, this book points the reader toward the next stages of the food revolution. It also covers the full landscape of the burgeoning local-food movement, from rural to suburban to urban, and from backyard gardens to large-scale food enterprises.

Available in: Paperback

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