Spring 2009 Newsletter Articles

Global Perspectives on Democracy
A new Center initiative takes root

In May 1607 a small group of British citizens boarded three tiny ships and successfully journeyed from London to the New World. Their safe landing four centuries ago at a place they would call Jamestown, which subsequently brought European, Native American, and African cultures together to form the countryís first colony, marked the start of an even more significant journey, of democracy in America.

In March 2009 Center for Politics Director Larry Sabato traveled to the United Kingdom, where he met with Members of Parliament and announced a new international initiative of the Center aimed at developing productive and peaceful civic engagement and fostering dialogue among citizens of democracies internationally. "Though all democratic governments vary, each one ultimately depends on citizen participation to survive. Active citizens must be afforded many opportunities to influence the civic affairs of their country," said Sabato. "If we expect citizens to participate in the serious game of democracy, then they must first understand and appreciate the rules of democracy."

The newest initiative of the Center, Global Perspectives on Democracy (GPD), will offer international groups the opportunity to participate in either in-country workshops or programmed trips to the United States. By immersing participants in the core aspects of citizen participation, they will learn:

  • Foundational principles of democracy and representative government
  • Real-world political skills, such as advocacy, communications, networking, and the global contextualization of current events
  • Avenues for successful engagement in political activities
  • Methods for cultivating mentors, governmental and NGO resources, and enhanced civic involvement
"The establishment of a democratic form of government is always a great achievement, but it is just the first step in a long march, as citizens of the United States have learned in an ongoing, four-hundred-year-old experiment with self-government" said Sabato. "From the landing of English settlers at Jamestown, Virginia through to the present day, the struggle has been to live up to the principles of this form of government. To that end, democracies all across the globe must learn from each other and identify best practices in an effort to challenge and involve their citizenry."

Sabato delivered a series of talks during his trip, including the distinguished 2009 DW Bryant Lecture at the British Library, and announced the GPD initiative at a meeting of the Foreign Press Association, to the English Speaking Unionís Mid-Atlantic Group, and at a special reception for University of Virginia alumni living in London.

"The strong relationship between the people of the United Kingdom and United States demonstrates that diplomacy finds lasting strength when citizens of different cultures understand the similarities and appreciate the differences in their respective systems," stated Sabato. "A major goal of this new international initiative is to assist marginalized citizens in particular, in utilizing the tools of their democracy to better appreciate the system and benefit more directly from it."

The Center for Politics will host its first session of Global Perspectives on Democracy with a delegation from Sri Lanka March 25-27, 2009 in Charlottesville.

Read Daily Progress Editorial on GPD



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