Due to globalization, the internet, rising education levels, and long-term democratization, citizen diplomacy is growing, and becoming a more important part of diplomacy and international affairs. Thus, in 2020, the Public Diplomacy Council of America (PDCA), a US-based NGO devoted to advancing the field of public diplomacy, formed the Citizen Diplomacy Research Group (CDRG) to advance the research and practice of citizen diplomacy. In 2023, the CDRG became Citizen Diplomacy International(CDI), a network and program of Learning Life, a Washington DC-based nonprofit devoted to developing innovative learning communities in order to widen and deepen participation in democracy and diplomacy.
CDI meets every three months online via Zoom for 1.5 hours to share research and news on citizen diplomacy developments worldwide with an eye to building a vibrant global CD sector for a more participatory, equitable and sustainable world.. Meetings typically begin with two presentations on CD research or practice, followed by discussion of the presentations, then news and announcements of past or upcoming international CD-related initiatives, publications, funding, conferences, etc.
Anyone — including scholars, students, citizen diplomacy practitioners, current and retired official diplomats, and others interested — can join CDI to learn, network, and/or present substantial research or practice in citizen diplomacy. For more information or to join the CDI email list, contact email@example.com. You can also connect with CDI members via our Facebook group and Linkedin group, to which you can post citizen diplomacy-related articles, books, events, funding, etc.
For a video recording of the September 6 CDI meeting, click here. For prior CDI meeting video recordings going back to CDI’s first meeting in June 2020, click here. Photos above are from the September 6 meeting. For more meeting photos, plus the presentation slides, and the Zoom chat discussion from this or prior CDI meetings, click here.
Meeting Participants & Agenda
The meeting drew 28 participants from at least 13 countries: Brazil, USA, Ghana, Burundi, Angola, Italy, France, Germany, Turkey, UAE, Pakistan, Thailand and China.
1) Opening Remarks & Introductions (10 minutes)
Review of meeting agenda. During this time everyone is encouraged to post to the chat a one-paragraph bio about themselves, including your name, city, country, job title and organization.
At this historic moment in American politics, a lot of attention is focused on whether or not Donald Trump will go to jail, or win the U.S. presidency again. But beyond that headline news lies a deep challenge that will outlast Donald Trump, even if he wins the presidency: the Trump voter. For those concerned and willing to move beyond expressions of frustration and contempt for his voters, part of the long-term solution may be something you have not considered: how schooling may be fueling the Trump phenomenon, and how wider learning communities may help reduce polarization in America.
Polarization has a number of roots, and it is worth briefly mentioning three of the most commonly cited ones. First, in many states, Democrats or Republicans dominate the state legislature, and when it comes time to draw U.S. House districts, they draw in their party’s favor. This makes it easier for their candidates to win, which makes the party primaries, not the general election, where the competition happens. That in turn pushes candidates to be more partisan to win party primary voters. Second, there’s the now commonly cited fact that conflict and outrage draw ears and eyeballs, so it is profitable for media companies to promote conflict and extremes. Third, Americans are moving to communities where they feel more comfortable, and since lifestyle preferences increasingly align with political inclinations, Americans are polarizing themselves, sometimes unintentionally, when they move.
There is no single solution to these polarization problems, but for all the talk about the need for civil discourse and perennial calls for “a national conversation” about this or that, it is striking how little talk, let alone action, there is to institutionalize democratic conversation nationwide in ways that could foster greater Comprehension, Civility and Collaboration. As two Americans, born thirty years apart, one a black woman, the other a white male, we nonetheless find common ground in sociology, and common interest in the potential of wider learning communities to cultivate those three Cs.
Learning communities (LCs), most simply defined, are associations focused on learning together. LCs can be in-person or online, and their learning focus varies, from math to gardening to diplomacy, but at their best, LCs (a) are open to interested persons of all income levels, (b) connect diverse people, (c) deepen participants’ understanding not only of their chosen topic, but how to think about the topic, and (d) foster civility in part through collaboration.
Learning communities are not new. The earliest learning communities can be traced to the earliest civilizations in Egypt, Mesopotamia India and China, where the inception of writing helped spur the development of schools to train scribes, teachers, priests, monks, government officials and other elites, and advanced science, medicine, mathematics, history, philosophy, and other bodies of knowledge. But the earliest schools tended toward the strict transmission of intellectual traditions through memorization and repetition, rather than open learning through dialogue, testing and observation. The collapse of the Roman Empire in Europe led to a fragmentation of power among many competing principalities, which fostered not only military but intellectual and technological competition. This competition, along with the rise of modern states, over time encouraged the development of primary and secondary schools as well as universities that together are now, in our knowledge-dependent modern societies, an important part of the social and economic lives of individuals, families, towns and countries.
Schools, including universities, are a kind of learning community – understood most simply as places where relationships are focused on learning. But for all the learning they nurture, schools also increase our world’s inequalities as much if not more than they decrease them. Schools, of course, offer their students the opportunity to develop themselves, and compulsory schooling extends that development to more people, thus increasing equality. However, vast differences exist in school quality and status in the same localities and across the world. Some elites may prefer it that way since their children tend to be better prepared and favored to get into better schools. Plus, the better teachers, technologies, programs and alumni connections those better schools provide help sustain and strengthen elite power. In short, widespread educational segregation benefits elites.
None of the above is new, at least to those who study education, but this has implications for politics and polarization. Intentionally or not, schools have long been instruments of exclusion. They sort people into social hierarchies based on whether and where students go to school and their performance therein. Schools also position and equip elites to rule, and others to fulfill needed roles, from farmers and cooks, to teachers, accountants, and engineers. Clearly, the process is not rigid; not everyone who graduates from an elite school ends up in a leadership position in government, business or nonprofits, and some farmers, teachers, and engineers become those leaders. Yet the facts that (a) a disproportionate share of business, government and nonprofit elites come from Harvard, Yale, Stanford and other top schools, and (b) elites’ wealth and income have been rising since the 1970s in the United States and abroad, as, generally, have those of their alma maters, underscore the pattern of exclusion.
At the same time, exclusion is one of the roots of the rise of Trump, and the Trump voter. Many accounts of their rise point to economic stagnation and decline among Americans with a high school degree. The association between educational and economic outcomes has only strengthened in the last several decades, and reinforces the links between Education, Economics and Exclusion. In some sense, Trump voters have every right to be angry if they have been at the losing end of this three-E’s process of exclusion, made worse by the contempt of educated elites.
But what if education were more an instrument of inclusion than exclusion, of the three C’s rather than the three E’s? What if learning was not bound to a period of one’s youth inside school walls, but rather a wider part of one’s life and region? What if education was also fun and social, forging engaging relationships across America’s deep political, economic, racial and generational divides?
We turn to these questions and more in the second part of this article on democracy, education and the Trump Voter.
Paul Lachelier, Ph.D., is a sociologist and founder of Learning Life, a Washington DC-based nonprofit developing innovative learning communities in order to widen and deepen participation in democracy and diplomacy. Ma’Shayla Hearns is a senior at Virginia Tech majoring in sociology and criminology, and an intern at Learning Life.
Sept 21: Panel Discussion: Democratize America
Live in the Washington DC area?
Concerned about American democracy?
Want to connect and learn about ways to strengthen democracy in America?
Learning Life and the Eisenhower Institute at Gettysburg College cordially invite you to a special in-person Democracy Dinner featuring a panel discussion on the theme “Democratize America.”
Democracy Dinner participants are asked to contribute financially to support the Dinners and to help build the wider DLC: $100 for individuals, $150 for couples, though you can contribute at whatever level you are comfortable with. Please RSVP here, and contribute in advance here or at the door. Proceeds from the Dinner help build the wider DMV Democracy Learning Community (DLC).
Spotlight: Summer 2023 Learning Life Interns
Learning Life’s interns do vital work responsible for the energy and growth of our organization. This summer, their work included outreach to thousands of people on Facebook and Linkedin to help grow the Family Diplomacy Initiative (FDI) worldwide, and our Democracy Learning Community (DLC) in the Washington DC capital region; interviewing applicants worldwide for this year’s FDI training in July-October; research and writing to develop our DLC vision and action plan; research and outreach to develop our new program, Citizen Diplomacy International; and more. Learning Life is very grateful for their dedicated work. You can learn a little about each of them below.
Year, major, and school: I’m a junior majoring in international relations with a concentration in justice, ethics, and human rights at American University in Washington DC.
Hobbies: I love to crochet, paint, and read! Right now I really like murder mysteries, but I read widely. I also love spending time with friends and family.
Career aspirations: After graduating from American University with my bachelor’s degree, I want to go to law school, and eventually become an international human rights lawyer!
Why Learning Life? Learning Life’s core mission and vision perfectly aligns with my passions and interests! The non-profit shares my values of family and education as well as my academic and professional interest in diplomacy. It was incredibly formative to work with the Family Diplomacy Initiative to bring families’ voices into international policy-making as well as relevant to my academic studies!
Year, major, and school: I graduated in May from Howard University with a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
Hobbies: I love to go running. I just did a half marathon about a month ago. I watch TV, particularly sitcoms, like New Girl, and Super Store.
Career aspirations: I would love to work in politics or to become a lawyer! I’m not sure as yet what areas of politics and the law.
Why Learning Life? I wanted to intern with Learning Life to gain better knowledge about what it’s like to work with a nonprofit. I also wanted to do work in international relations, so helping with the Family Diplomacy Initiative was insightful as it allowed me to learn foreign people’s different perspectives from their own mouths, not a textbook.
Year, major, and school: I am a rising senior at Virginia Tech double majoring in sociology and criminology with a minor in peace studies and social justice.
Hobbies: I love arts and crafts whether that be drawing, painting, or crocheting. I also enjoy taking long peaceful walks especially on the many trails around the Blacksburg area in Virginia.
Career Aspirations: After completing my undergraduate studies, I would like to have a career working for one of the agencies of the federal government, ideally the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), or as a federal advocate for marginalized groups.
Why Learning Life? I joined Learning Life because I like how it targets the family as the place where democracy and diplomacy can be formed. The Family Diplomacy Initiative allows for individuals within their families to be empowered to stand up for what they believe in and gain the tools they need to do so. I also enjoy the connections and collaborations that are made in an effort to spread democracy worldwide.
Year, major, and school: I am a rising sophomore majoring in International Affairs and minoring in Business Administration at American University. Hobbies: My hobbies include playing tennis, playing the piano, and reading. I have been playing piano since I was five years old, and I was on the tennis team all throughout my high school years. I have always been an avid reader because I love being able to expand my perspective and fully immerse myself into someone else’s story. Career aspirations: I have always been passionate about advocating for marginalized communities and I believe that this stemmed from witnessing the hardships my parents had to go through when immigrating to the United States. My goal is to give back to my community through government and public service. I want to go to law school and either delve into international law or immigration law. Why Learning Life? I chose learning life because I believe that learning about each other’s stories from all across the world has become more important than ever. People tend to only focus on their own lives or the lives of their loved ones, but Learning Life gives individuals the ability to look past their bubble and see all of the different lives that people have experienced around the world. Being able to speak to family diplomats from different countries has really opened my eyes to the joys and hardships that people have been through.
Year, major, and school: I am a Master’s student majoring in political science at American University in Washington, DC.
Hobbies: I enjoy digital drawing. I love to draw cartoons that tell stories from my travels and academic journeys. The most recent digital story I did was a promotional video about a Christian camp I helped organize this summer. This fall, I’m planning to create a video introducing All of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, a student club I founded at American University. The video would introduce viewers to the issue of North-South Korea relations, democracy, human rights and peace by speaking with club students as well as North Korea experts and defectors.
Career aspirations: My vision is to contribute to the process of unification between North and South Korea, since there has been a truce, not real peace, between the Koreas over the last seventy years, since the Korean War. I aspire to aid North Korean defectors, to dismantle the emotional barriers between the hearts of North and South Korea, and more broadly, to help refugees from conflicts and unstable or authoritarian regimes.
Why Learning Life? Learning Life presents incredible ideas through citizen diplomacy and family diplomacy. By engaging with Learning Life, I’ve discovered the profound power of familial interconnectedness. Researching, planning, and listening to the voices of families around the world has been a true pleasure for me.
Year, major, and school: I’m a rising sophomore at George Washington University. At the moment, I plan to double major in international affairs and Spanish.
Hobbies: I like to read, especially about psychology. I enjoy learning about human nature and the trends that shape the modern world.
Career aspirations: I hope to use my foreign language skills in my career. I’m especially interested in using foreign languages for international development.
Why Learning Life? I resonated with LL’s mission of “spreading learning in everyday life beyond school walls.” I also appreciated their goal to connect people across continents. Meeting people in different environments, often through the internet, has given me many valuable life experiences.
Year, major, and school: I am a rising junior at The University of North Carolina at Chapel-Hill majoring in Global Studies and Latin American Studies along with a minor in Social & Economic Justice.
Hobbies: I grew up playing competitive volleyball, both indoor and sand, which I still enjoy playing and watching when I can today. I love attending hip-hop concerts and festivals whenever I can. I also enjoy traveling, improving my Spanish, thrift store shopping, watching movies, and spending time with my two dogs at home.
Career aspirations: As most college students probably say, I am not completely sure what my future career will be. For the past few years, I have thought about getting an international affairs master’s degree and working in diplomacy. Recently, I have become more interested in attending law school after my undergraduate studies and pursing immigration law. I want to be able to consistently practice and improve my Spanish and work directly with people who I can help. Wherever my career takes me, I hope that I can use my education and privilege to create a more equitable society.
Why Learning Life? This summer I wanted the chance to work in the non-profit sector to see if it is a career that suited me. I learned a lot about the effort, collaboration, and sacrifices that everyone must put in to make these organizations work. I am very grateful for the experience I had to work with dedicated students from around the world who have similar interests and values. It was also so rewarding to talk with and hear the perspectives of families and individuals around the world.
Year, major, and school: I am a junior at the University of Southern California, majoring in international relations and minoring in management consulting. Hobbies: In my spare time, I enjoys cooking Chinese hot pot meals and baking desserts, like Taro Bread, with friends. I also like hiking on mountain trails, and reading, especially detective novels. Career aspirations: I was born and raised in China, and moved to the United States to study at the age of 16. My experiences living in both countries has fostered a deep sense of community and belonging. I’m passionate about bridging misunderstandings between people from different nations, particularly between China and the United States. Consequently, I aspire to a career in public diplomacy to nurture interpersonal connections or to work at the United Nations, addressing conflicts at the governmental level. Alternatively, I would love to start my own nonprofit organization to advance the cause of citizen diplomacy, including student diplomacy. Why Learning Life? The concept of Learning Life – utilizing family as a medium to connect everyday people around the globe – is an innovative and compelling approach. This idea deeply resonated with me. Furthermore, I am eager to gain a deeper understanding of the work style within nonprofit organizations.