Dictionary definition of democracy:
Government by the people; that form of government in which the sovereign power resides in the people as a whole, and is exercised either directly by them (as in the small republics of antiquity) or by officers elected by them. In mod. use often more vaguely denoting a social state in which all have equal rights, without hereditary or arbitrary differences of rank or privilege. (Oxford English Dictionary - Second Edition 1989)
The word democracy comes from the Greek, meaning "rule by the people". The first time that we know that humans discussed Democracy as a form of government was in the war between the two ancient Greek city-states, aristocratic Sparta and democratic Athens. The fall of democratic Athens was one of the themes of the military history known as "The Peloponnesian Wars".
It is also safe to say that the meaning of Democracy has changed over the millenia. It has changed drastically in the last 200 some-odd years.
When the new-born American republic declared itself a democracy, it was in a bid to remove the interference of monarchy over getting and selling by the local well-to-do. Then to get more soldiers into the Continental army they had to allow white males who did not own property to vote. The story of American Democracy since then has been the story of non-Europeans, women, and working people slowly expanding the meaning of democracy to include them and their human rights.
Other democracies have fallen when the natural tendency of political leaders to ignore the general interest in favor of their own private interests is unchecked by opposition from below. After a time, leading families become so skilled at working the levers of power that they begin to operate the government transparently for their own self-interest. At that point it is the duty of the people to raise up new leaders who are accountable and who work for the interest of all.
A new movement requires a new vision.
The reason that Conservatives are so powerful right now is, according to George Lakoff, because they articulate a clear moral vision. This moral vision is based on the metaphor of the nation as a family with a "strict father". Strict Fathers expect family members to be disciplined, obedient, respectful, accepting of authority, loyal, and morally upright or pure.
This moral framework, this strict father metaphor for the nation, is articulated over and over again from the pulpit of conservative churches, over the airwaves by conservative talk-show hosts, and by prime-time TV cop shows. It comes at us from news magazines and newspapers.
Liberals also have a moral point of view, although rarely clearly articulated. The Liberal/Progressive vision comes from a "nurturing parent" metaphor. Nurturing parents can be male or female. They expect their family members to be caring, empathetic, self-nurturing, creative, happy, fair, strong, and protective.
So how did Conservatives get to have such a well-articulated, if cramped, moral vision? They got together and formed communities of like-minded persons where they could hammer out their ideas.
Conservative philanthropists like the Coors family, the Olin Foundation, the Bradley Foundation funded communities of Conservative scholars.
Conservative Christians such as Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Swaggert and Pat Robertson took to the media. Fundamentalist missionaries started Bible Study groups in unsuspecting unpolitical churches, indoctrinated the study group in their Manichaean version of Christianity, emphasized one-on-one outreach, split into several more study groups and soon had the majority of the congregation declare for Right-Wing Fundamentalism. The Pastors then either came along or were stuck with a drafty church and a rump congregation.
The Progressive Left, on the other hand, largely opted to take over Academia and the professions. It seemed to see little reason for outreach to the Business or Working Classes as long as their tenure and privileges were unaffected. And some of the outreach that was done was done in the name of sectarian ideologies that carried a heavy load of righteous indignation but little moral vision.
There has always been a Progressive Left that did reach out to neighborhoods and workers, of course. The Industrial Areas Foundation of Saul Alinsky and the organizers of ACORN and others have done yeoman's work, but outside of Feminism, there was little attempt to build a personal, as well as a political, analysis.
Practical Democracy, which provides the intellectual underpinnings of Progressive Omaha, is an attempt to build a personal politics. A democracy that encompasses the personal, social and political worlds.