The World Forum on the Future of Democracy in Williamsburg, Va., was a great opportunity to reflect on the nature of democracy and what we have learned in the project so far. If I were to take one message away from the World Forum it would be that democracy is no spectator sport. Through the course of the three-day conference we were reminded that a successful democracy requires the active participation of its citizens. A vital question that we have to grapple with in the 21st century is how to ensure this participation in a world where voting and citizen participation is declining. Indeed one of the greatest threats to democracy today in the developed world is that citizens will disengage from the political process. Virginia Governor Tim Kaine alluded to this threat during his speech at the opening ceremony saying that it is more than possible in a few years that we will have to find a new word for a system of government that has universal suffrage but where very few people actually choose to vote.
The good news is that with a concerted effort, convincing people to become engaged in politics should be easy. In our interview, Hunter Rawlings, president emeritus of Cornell University, said that people should become interested in politics because the issues are interesting; the issues discussed at the World Forum, he said, are the most interesting things one can think of.
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One of the best ways of promoting citizenship and defending democracy is education. This was a point raised by Chan Heng Chee, Singapore's ambassador to the United States, who said it is very difficult to oppress an educated population.
View original media here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BM5FRyY3TY8
Chan referred to formal education, but the term can be viewed in a wider context-- keeping up with the news and learning about the important issues facing one's community or country. It is for this reason that a free press is crucial to a functioning democracy. A point raised in a previous interview with Tala Dowlatshahi, of Reporters Without Borders, and why Freedom House regards freedom of the press to be the fundamental freedom of a functioning democracy as was explained by Paula Schriefer.
View original media here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hhQtNIATjZQ
View original media here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wqG7sLoCCVw
The greatest threat to democracy today comes from within, not from the outside. Although there are structural issues that can encourage and affect participation, such as the media and education, it is really in our hands to make sure that the democratic system works. iCitizenForum will continue this discussion.