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New On The Block:
Global Perspectives Initiative

The Center for Politics was initially envisioned to promote the value of politics, government, and civic engagement to American citizens. However, the new wave of emerging democracies across the globe now provides the Center with an opportunity to offer our civic action tools and resources to leaders in grassroots organizations and marginalized communities internationally.

Launched in early March by Center Director Larry Sabato, Global Perspectives on Democracy is the next programmatic step in the Center’s efforts to educate and empower citizens of representative governments. This hands-on workshop program builds on the model of the Youth Leadership Initiative but targets adult populations with lessons on American political history, creating citizen action plans for local communities, and immersion in real-world civic organizations.

The Center hosted its first workshop conference in partnership with Relief International, a nonpartisan humanitarian organization dedicated to reducing human suffering, in Charlottesville on March 25-27. A group of 18 Sri Lankan young professionals, representing marginalized social, ethnic, and religious minorities, spent three days learning about the evolution of American democracy, beginning with the Jamestown settlement. Participants engaged in a series of presentations and interactive workshop sessions, led by Center staff Daman Irby and Meg Heubeck. Among the guest lecturers were Larry Sabato, former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, former Virginia Lieutenant Governor and Assistant Secretary of Education John Hager, Virginia Attorney General William Mims, and Virginia Circuit Court Judge Malfourd Trumbo.

Sri Lankan members of the University community welcomed the Global Perspectives attendees on their first night in Charlottesville. The group met at the University’s International Student Center for dinner and to share perspectives on grassroots organization and political engagement. The highlight of the conference, however, may have been its final dinner, held on the Lawn at the Colonnade Club. The gathering featured a presentation by author Nesta Ramazani. She spoke of her experiences and those of her spouse, U.Va. professor emeritus Ruhi Ramazani, as they were students in Iran during the volatile political instability that followed World War II. Thomas Jefferson, as played by Colonial Williamsburg re-enactor Bill Barker, finished the night with an impressive question and answer session that focused on lessons learned in our own experiment with Democracy, and how the positive outcomes can be applied to the current political state in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka’s civil war was still in full swing during the group’s visit to Charlottesville; just a few months later, in May, the insurgency was proclaimed to be over by the prevailing government, with the death of several senior leaders of the Tamil Tigers separatist group. As a continuing part of the U.S. State Department sponsored citizen-exchange program, which funded the Sri Lankan group’s trip to America, Meg Heubeck and Daman Irby were invited to spend the first three weeks of August in Sri Lanka. A full report of their experiences will be included in the next issue of this newsletter.

We continue to develop partnership and funding opportunities for the Global Perspectives program, and expect to host additional groups in the next year.