Has Democracy Become a Spectator Sport?




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Jul 29, 2020
by Louise Hallman
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Has Democracy Become a Spectator Sport?

US political leader Stacey Abrams leads inaugural conversation in Designs on the Future initiative

Has democracy become a spectator sport? The emphatic answer from Stacey Abrams, US political leader and voting rights advocate is “No.”

Speaking at the inaugural conversation for the launch of the new Salzburg Global initiative, Designs on the Future on July 28, Abrams discussed the state of US democracy, the need for greater voter registration efforts, and the importance of wider engagement of marginalized communities in democratic processes alongside other four other Salzburg Global Fellows.

Wrapping up the 75-minute-long webinar, Abrams concluded:

“No, democracy is not becoming a spectator sport, because at the exact same time that [populists and dictators] are surging... we are seeing movements not only in the United States but around the world: people fighting for democracy, fighting for justice, people who are standing up and saying that ‘This belongs to me, this democracy is mine, and I will not let you take it from me.’ 

“We know that in the United States, in South Korea, it's about stepping up to the ballot box. And we have seen record turnout despite the twin instrumentalities of voter suppression and COVID-19. We know that in Poland, while we may not all be satisfied with the outcome, there was an engagement level that is worthy of noting. And we have to do our best to not only encourage but to sustain that engagement in our democracies here and abroad. 

“I know that under our current leadership, the United States has acted more like a spectator in global democracy, but one of the benefits of being in a democratic state, as I said earlier, is that we have the ability in each election to reset what we expect. That is not to say that we will solve every problem, but we know that the failure to engage, the decision to remain a spectator or to not fight back against depression and oppression guarantees that democracy slips further away. 

“And I, for one, refuse to let that be so.”

Salzburg Global Fellows

Abrams was joined in the webinar, entitled Has Democracy Become a Spectator Sport? by long-time friend and fellow Salzburg Global alum, journalist and writer Will Dobson, whose writing includes the book, The Dictator's Learning Curve: Inside the Global Battle for Democracy.

Abrams and Dobson were in turn joined by three more Salzburg Global Fellows acting as “provocateurs”: Maria Farrell, a speaker and writer on technology, politics and the future, consultant on internet governance and infrastructure; Henry W. Leung, a poet and creative nonfiction writer from Hong Kong studying law at UC Berkeley, USA; and Chloe Hakim-Moore, founder and director of Next Memphis in Tennessee, USA.

The full webinar is available to watch online:

The webinar was the first in what will become a series of unique “conversations with a twist”, which will feature leaders and disrupters from within the Salzburg Global Fellowship. Designs on the Future is a new, open initiative inspired by Salzburg Global’s radical roots and the unrivalled diversity of our alumni. The initiative will focus on emergent challenges and breakthroughs to spark ideas, make sense of complexity, and inform our programs, networks and impact far into the future. 

We welcome your input as we expand this new initiative. Please send your feedback and ideas to betterworld@salzburgglobal.org. To find out when our next webinar is taking place, please subscribe to our newsletter: www.salzburgglobal.org/go/subscribe