Democracy & Diplomacy Community to Offer Citizen Diplomacy Dialogues

Learning Life is pleased to announce the addition of international Citizen Diplomacy Dialogues to our new Democracy & Diplomacy Community (DDC) starting in January 2023.

The Dialogues will offer DDC members and the interested public an opportunity to learn, network and advance citizen diplomacy (CD) worldwide.  CD can be defined as communication or collaboration among citizens (not government diplomats) across national borders for shared economic, political, cultural, educational, environmental, health, or other purposes.

Due to globalization, the internet, rising education levels, and long-term democratization across the world, CD is growing, and becoming a more important part of diplomacy and international affairs. The Dialogues help connect CD students, scholars and practitioners worldwide to learn from each other, and where possible, foster collaborations to study and/or practice CD.

Learning Life’s founder, Paul Lachelier, launched the Dialogues in June 2020 as the Citizen Diplomacy Research Group under the aegis of the Public Diplomacy Council, now the Public Diplomacy Council of America.  The Group’s email list has since grown to over 1,000 students, scholars and practitioners from 108 countries.  Since June 2020, CDRG meetings have been held every two months for 1.5 hours online via Zoom, with each meeting comprised of two presentations of CD research or practice followed by discussion then announcements.  Since October 2020, the CDRG has also published a CD Bulletin with every meeting, offering CD-related news, events, articles, books and resources.

“Learning Life is excited to offer DDC members the Citizen Diplomacy Dialogues to broaden our global connections and engagement in some of the cutting edges of diplomacy,” said Lachelier.  “We are also excited to partner with the PDCA, an organization of which I am a proud member, to foster communication and collaboration between citizen diplomats and government diplomats for the public good.”

“The PDCA is pleased to establish this partnership with Learning Life, which sustains our members’ access to international citizen diplomacy meetings and a growing CD bibliography, while developing a new relationship with a nonprofit innovating CD,” PDCA Co-President Sherry Mueller added.

In 2023, the Citizen Diplomacy Dialogues will occur every three months, with dates and topics tentatively scheduled as follows:

March 8, 12:00-1:30pm: health diplomacy

June 6, 11:00am-12:30pm: city diplomacy

September 6, 12:00-1:30pm: democratizing and localizing world affairs

December 5, 11:00am-12:30pm: digital diplomacy, or big data, authoritarianism & CD

To get on the email invitation list for the Citizen Diplomacy Dialogues, send your preferred email address to email@learninglife.info.  You can also join the CDRG Facebook group and/or Linkedin group (the names and organizational affiliations of which will change in January 2023, as noted above) to connect with other CD students, scholars and practitioners worldwide, and to share your CD-related articles, books, events, funding, and other items.

Founder’s Blog: 3 Threats to American Democracy & Their Social Roots

The following article was published in The Fulcrum here on September 27, 2022. 

Democracy in America faces three existential threats: election subversion, a growing disconnect between policy and public opinion, and a longstanding gulf between democracy and Americans’ everyday lives.

On Sept. 19, Joseph Kahn, executive editor of The New York Times, announced that some of the Times’ best journalists are working to “expose the cancers eating away at democracy, as well as joining the search for solutions.” Kahn fingered two threats to American democracy that Times journalists consider to be the biggest: “first, a movement within the Republican Party that refuses to accept election defeat; and, second, a growing disconnect between public opinion and government power.”The first threat, as many journalists from the Times and other generally reliable news sources have documented, includes not just denials of election defeat, despite convincing evidence, but efforts to make it harder to vote, and to elect state and local election officials who can subvert the popular vote.

The second threat saliently includes the growing disconnects between American public opinion and developments in the three branches of government:

  • U.S. presidential elections, in which two of the last four presidents – George W. Bush and Donald Trump, were elected via the Electoral College despite losing the popular vote.
  • Congressional process, wherein a minority of legislators, Democratic and/or Republican, can block gun control, climate change action, and transparency in campaign financing, among other popular laws.
  • The Supreme Court’s new conservative majority, whose recent decisions on abortion, gun control, and other issues run contrary to public opinion.

The third threat, which Kahn does not mention, is more longstanding, and its endurance may account for the relative lack of attention among journalists, who typically focus on what is new. As Kahn notes, “[o]ver the sweep of history, the American government has tended to become more democratic, through women’s suffrage, civil rights laws, the direct election of senators and more.” Yet the direct election of senators, women’s suffrage, civil rights protections, and other government reforms have legally but not so much socially expanded democracy:

  1. In schools, STEM education has crowded out civics education, at the expense of students’ civic knowledge and skills. Among other problems, almost no states require community service, let alone integrate service with classroom learning in sustained ways that nurture not only youth civic knowledge, but skills and agency.
  2. In workplaces, most employees have little to no voice in decision-making, robbing them of a routine practice in democracy. Despite the laudable efforts of organizations like the AFL-CIO and the Democracy Collaborative as well as the increasing popularity of labor unions, organized labor (which among other things helps workers practice democracy at work) has been in general decline at least since the 1970s.
  3. Outside of school and work, Americans spend far more time on leisure, especially watching TV, but also surfing social media or playing video games than they do in civic associations to address the problems directly or indirectly affecting them, from street crime and potholes, to stagnating incomes and climate change.
  4. Lastly, and importantly given the continued growth expected in aging and retired populations, too few senior citizens are regularly volunteering with civic organizations that could provide them with a sense of purpose while countering mounting social isolation, loneliness and declining health as they age.

For most Americans, democracy is thus more punctuation than part of their everyday lives: a passing news flash on a phone or TV, a fleeting and often frustrating conversation, or a periodic vote for someone else to do something. Yet there is considerable evidence that:

  1. Youth and adults who get sustained, engaging civics education increase their political knowledge, participation and sense of power or self-efficacy.
  2. Workers who have union representation not only enjoy better pay and benefits, they reduce wage inequality (and thus, to some extent, political inequality), curb laws restricting voting, and vote more and encourage others to vote more than do non-union workers.
  3. People, including seniors, who volunteer can experience a variety of benefits including improved skills and social connectionphysical and psychological well-beingprotection against cognitive aging, lower mortality and higher trust in institutions with which they engage. This is not to mention the often significant benefits for the thousands of organizations and millions of individuals who are the recipients of that volunteering.

This evidence, in line with accumulated research supporting contact theory, suggests that citizens who are more connected, especially across lines of social difference, are more likely to trust and cooperate with each other, and to trust the institutions through which they connect and collaborate. Unfortunately, as Kahn recognizes, Americans have sorted themselves and been sorted by state politicians into more socially and politically homogenous communities (rural areas increasingly conservative, urban areas increasingly liberal, with polarizing consequences for more urban vs. more rural states). This sorting, along with polarizing changes in our media, makes it easier to distrust and hate those unlike us, especially from a safe distance, online or in-person. Our social sorting and polarizing media also make it easier to imagine that the other side is an existential threat, that they are rigging elections, and that we need to defend our way of life, even at the cost of democracy.

The gulf between democracy and Americans’ everyday lives at school, work, and leisure and in retirement is to a great degree a personal and institutional failure to bring ourselves together across these lines of differences. Personally, we may give lip service to diversity, but tend to pick socially and/or economically homogenous friends, partners and neighborhoods.

Institutionally, we call for national debates yet fail to adequately fund the nonprofits and media that can build a wide and deep civil discourse infrastructure across our nation. At the root of our democratic ills are these social disconnects. No amount of rhetorical calls to “come together,” “deliberate” or “be civil” will help without sustained, systematic investment of money, time and effort to build social infrastructures of citizen engagement in all areas of life.

Paul Lachelier, Ph.D. 

American Polarization Event Launches Democracy & Diplomacy Community

On Saturday, September 17, Learning Life’s first in-person event in over 2.5 years drew metro Washington DC residents to a rich, participatory discussion of one of the most salient political issues in America today — polarization — and launched an ambitious new community devoted to advancing democracy and diplomacy in the USA and abroad.  

The event, co-sponsored by the Eisenhower Institute at Gettysburg College, featured a panel of three speakers:

Nealin Parker, Executive Director, Common Ground USA, and Founding Director of the Bridging Divides Initiative at Princeton University.  

Seth David Radwell, former business CEO and author of American Schism: How the Two Enlightenments Hold the Secret to Healing Our Nation.

Bill Schneider, former CNN Senior Political Analyst, George Madison University emeritus political science professor, and author of Standoff: How America Became Ungovernable.

Nealin, among other things, offered an international perspective, noting that while violence overall has declined markedly in the past 500 years of world history, more violence is now coming from non-state actors, like terrorist and militia groups.  

Radwell presented some of the historical and philosophical underpinnings, distinguishing moderate and radical wings of American politics since the nation’s founding that inform polarization today.  “In addition to our partisan bubbles, we are caught in a time bubble that inhibits any illuminating historical or longitudinal perspective,” Radwell argues in his book. 

Schneider, in turn, focused on political developments since the 1960s to help explain current American polarization.  “Class conflict [of the 1930s] has given way to cultural conflict” since the 1960s, with religiosity (not what church, but how often one goes to church) and education (especially whether one has a college degree) dividing Americans.  The corresponding shift from a focus on material interests to moral values makes it harder to compromise since values are more central to people’s identities.   

Readers can view the speakers’ full presentations here via the Eisenhower Institute’s Youtube Channel.  Following the speakers’ remarks, participants formed a circle to talk with each other about American polarization.  The rich discussion ranged widely, from human nature, to the state of American civic education, to social media effects on polarization, to existing efforts to tackle the problem, including the work of Common Ground USA, Braver Angels, The Bridge Alliance and Learning Life’s own Democracy Learning Community.     

This discussion was the first in a series of events Learning Life has planned as part of its new, overarching Democracy & Diplomacy Community (DDC).  The DDC builds on the over 25,000 people worldwide connected with Learning Life’s work to foster international learning, networking and action on democracy and diplomacy “because the problems we face demand not demagogues and strongmen, but rather citizens and diplomats.”  Learn more and join the DDC here.   

American Polarization: A Conversation (DDC Event)

Live in the metro Washington DC area?

Interested in politics?

Concerned about the future of American democracy?

Learning Life and the Eisenhower Institute at Gettysburg College are pleased to announce a special in-person, conversation about American polarization on Saturday, September 17, 6:30-10:00pm EST featuring three distinguished speakers on American polarization:

1. Nealin Parker, Executive Director, Search for Common Ground USA, and Founder and Director of the Bridging Divides Initiative at Princeton University.
3. Bill Schneider, former CNN Senior Political Analyst, George Mason University emeritus political science professor, and author of Standoff: How America Became Ungovernable.
Event Agenda:
6:30-7:30pm: Reception (includes food)
7:30-8:30pm: Introduction, then authors speak
8:30-9:30pm: Discussion
9:30-10:00pm: Mingling
Location, RSVP & Other Details: 
Precise location in Washington, DC to be announced to participants.
Given limited venue space, please fill out this brief registration form now to confirm your interest and availability. We will then notify you asap if you have a seat. In the meantime, please mark your calendar.
The event is free, but participants are encouraged to join Learning Life’s Democracy & Diplomacy Community (DDC) to network, learn, and support this and other upcoming DDC events.
All participants must show proof of Covid vaccination (vaccination card and photo ID) to enter the event.