A welcome return of drug-store democracy


New forum relaunches legendary discussion group. The first topic — the legacy of slavery — won’t be timid.


The iconic pot-bellied stove was absent. No jam-packed retail shelves stood watch. But the essential ingredients of the never-named monthly discussion group that challenged premises and pricked consciences at a Prospect Park drug store for 27 years came together anew last week — chief among them the group’s founder, Tom SenGupta.

SenGupta, 76, has had two cancer surgeries and a run of chemotherapy in the year since he sold Schneider Drug on University Avenue, the independent drug store he owned for 43 years. But the pharmacist has recovered sufficiently to again pursue what always seemed to be his true calling — the perfecting of American democracy. … read more

In a Season of Rage, Populist Lessons From the Movement

The media casts Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders as populists. But a civil rights activist reminds us that the great populist movements of the past channeled people’s anger into a force for constructive change.


(Rowland Scherman/US Information Agency/Wikimedia Commons)

Coming back to the US after time in South Africa, anger in the election is like a blast furnace. I’m also struck by the ubiquitous use of populism as a framework of analysis.

Trump and Sanders: Different Candidates with a Populist Streak,” reported Chuck Todd on NBC News. Most reporters and commentators use “populism” to mean inflammatory rhetoric. Thus Jonathan Goldberg, writing in the National Review, argues Trump and Sanders are “Two Populist Peas in a Pod,” stirring up “millions of people [who] are convinced that the system is rigged against them.”

Continue reading “In a Season of Rage, Populist Lessons From the Movement”

Citizens as Co-Creators

By Harry C. Boyte

I like your question to students, “how are decisions on various levels of importance are made?” I agree that the capacity to “throw the rascals out” is essential.

But I also am convinced democracy is not only about decision making. It is about co-creation and a feeling of ownership – where “culture” comes in.

Some years ago I had an exchange with two distinguished academics, Eric Olin Wright and Archon Fung, about their “Deepening Democracy” essay, later published in Politics and Society (my response, “Reconstructing Democracy,” is also on the Havens site).

They were interested in developing “transformative democratic strategies,” larger than local experiments or single issue movements. Drawing lessons from large scale examples which they called “empowered deliberative democracy,” from habitat conservation planning under the Endangered Species Act to participatory budget discussions in Brazil, they developed a model which  could be adapted to schools.

They distilled three principles: Issues have a practical focus on specific, tangible problems; all involve ordinary people affected by the problems and officials close to them; all rely on deliberative development of problem solving. They noted three design features – decentralization of state decision making to local units; creation of formal linkages that connect local units to each other and to more central authorities; and ways to support and guide problem-solving efforts.

Continue reading “Citizens as Co-Creators”

Introducing the Tom SenGupta Forum

Last March we announced the Sabo Center’s partnership with Changing the Norm of Society, a project conceived by Tom SenGupta, long time pharmacist and owner of Schneider Drug on University Avenue in Minneapolis, who convened hundreds of conversations on politics and public issues that took place after hours right in the aisles of the drug store. Today we are pleased to introduce the project under its new name, the Tom SenGupta Forum.

Tom Sengupta
MinnPost photo by Bill Kelley, full story linked below.

The project’s mission is to create inclusive places with opportunities for learning and sharing of ideas which inspire ordinary citizens to reclaim our moral compass and reshape our world. Planning is underway to open the Tom SenGupta Forum soon and the first topic will be the legacy of slavery and its impact on society today.

Learn more about Tom SenGupta
MinnPost column by Doug Grow: The Legend of Tom SenGupta
Star Tribune column: Beloved community leader to say goodbye to his independent drugstore
Star Tribune column: Philosopher pharmacist dreams of a memorial to the common man

Make a Gift to the Tom SenGupta Forum
To donate to the project by mail, send a check payable to Augsburg University to:
Sabo Center for Democracy and Citizenship, Tom SenGupta Forum
2211 Riverside Avenue, CB 10
Minneapolis, MN 55454

Stay in Touch
To receive e-mail updates about the Tom SenGupta Forum please send a message to sabocenter@augsburg.edu


November 12, 2015, 7:00-8:30 p.m. | Magers & Quinn Booksellers, 3038 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis.

Insurgent Democracy offers a new look at the Nonpartisan League and a new way to understand its rise and fall in the United States and Canada. Lansing argues that, rather than a spasm of populist rage that inevitably burned itself out, the story of the League is in fact an instructive example of how popular movements can create lasting change. Depicting the League as a transnational response to economic inequity, Lansing not only resurrects its story of citizen activism, but also allows us to see its potential to inform contemporary movements.

You can eat processed meats and red meats, but can you digest cancer?

As a way to further reflect on their experience with Campus Cupboard, polish their communication skills, and explore new topics related to food and sustainability, Campus Cupboard volunteers will be publishing weekly blogs this fall. Check back each week for new musings from the students!

By: Oscar-Martinez-Armenta (’16)

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an intergovernmental agency forming part of the World Health Organization (WHO), recently served us a mouthful. On Monday, October 26, the IARC reported that processed meats and red meats are linked to cancer.

After analyzing 800 scientific studies, the IARC categorized processed meats as a Group 1 Carcinogenic. Under this category, “there is enough evidence to conclude that it can cause cancer in humans.” Red meats were placed in Group 2A, which means that there is probable cause of cancer, but the evidence is inconclusive.

Processed meats are those altered through methods like salting, curing, and fermentation. Bacon, ham, and sausage are prime examples. Eating 50 grams per day of these meats can increase the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%. Continue reading “You can eat processed meats and red meats, but can you digest cancer?”

Educating, Organizing, and Thinking Democracy (pt. 2)

Education Week
Bridging Differences

by Mike Miller


In the final piece of the rich “Educating, Organizing, and Thinking Democracy” Education Week blog exchange between Deborah Meier and Harry Boyte, Deborah says about her work in New York City, “…[I]n the early 1990s we invented a possible answer [to how to do democratic education] that, alas, we were never able to test out…If we hadn’t been stopped by a new chancellor and a new state superintendent we’d have learned a lot.”  Observing a similar experience in Boston, she writes of a similar democratic effort, “[T]hose in power seemed remarkably uninterested in this public solution, and preferred to put their money into charter chains or vouchers.”  She notes a similar experience in 39 NYC high schools, “Again with relatively little attention.  Amazing.”

She is, she says, “desperate” to broaden understanding of these efforts, presumably so they can be expanded upon in public schools systems.  She notes one consequence when they aren’t, “Some of the young admirers of these efforts feel stymied and turn to opening ‘mom and pop’ small charters with more autonomy…” and she asks, “How can we break through the silence by making these public alternatives more visible before they die off as their autonomies are chipped away?”

Continue reading “Educating, Organizing, and Thinking Democracy (pt. 2)”

Educating, Organizing, and Thinking Democracy

Education Week
Bridging Differences

by Deborah Meier and Harry Boyte

Dear Harry and friends,

So what do I know from experience, observation and research about the essentials of schooling for democracy?    I know that education which prepares the young to join and even surpass the adult world, where learning sticks with them, happens best (maybe only)  when the novice is in the company of experts who accept the child as is and takes it for granted that she will become an expert over time.  It requires that the adults demonstrate their expertise in action, and the novice can observe, ask questions, and try out new knowledge in a setting where he/she can fail without shame.  That’s the setting children find themselves in at birth, with a ratio generally of several experts per novice.

What are the special features of such learning?  The novice is accepted lovingly, is assumed to be able to become an expert (an adult), has many chances to observe and to experiment, and has good reason to trust the setting and the people there. Adults delight in children’s early mistakes because we can see the beginning of understanding and competence.  We even cherish their mistakes.

Most rarely reach such a space again in life which rich and poor share. Continue reading “Educating, Organizing, and Thinking Democracy”