Megha Parwani, '22
Defending global democracy
Last summer, I was meant to intern in New York City. Instead, I interned in Buenos Aires, Harare, Lagos, Dhaka, and New Delhi.
Don’t worry; I didn’t violate COVID-19 travel restrictions. Instead, from my desk in New Delhi, I met and collaborated with a team of civic educators and activists from around the world, learning along the way about how others were experiencing the global public health crisis and how they found optimism to continue undaunted in their work equipping young people to be democratically engaged.
My internship involved working with Scott Warren, a former Social Entrepreneur in Residence at Stanford and then CEO of Generation Citizen, a civics education nonprofit. I helped organize and manage a virtual conference that served as the springboard for Democracy Moves, a global coalition of activists, scholars, and practitioners focused on building more just and participatory democracies through youth activism. The conference was meant to bring these people together for the first time to learn and network. My focus was on designing the panels and workshops, which required me to research and engage with potential speakers across the world. This involved inviting them to the conference and coalition and relaying how their work intersects with ours.
At first, making the connection to our work was challenging. Having just begun working with Democracy Moves, I was unsure how—given the diverse approaches to democracy across the world—there could be a meaningful cross-national movement to defend democratic institutions and practice. But through talking to people in various parts of the world while scoping out ideas for the conference, I came to realize the immense potential of this kind of movement.
One of the most striking conversations I had was with Veronica—or Ve—who helps lead an Argentinian education nonprofit called Sumando, which partners with Generation Citizen. Sumando’s signature program, “Demos,” brings policy-making simulations to classrooms across the country. Through practice and play, students learn about the values and skills applied in policy-making, as well as about ethical challenges and policy issues confronting their society.
Ve—like me—loved to talk about politics and philosophy. From Ve, I learned about the immense social and political overlap between India, Argentina, and the United States. We discussed and compared the COVID-19 responses in our countries, and how the crisis was bringing into sharp relief deep political and social inequities in each society. We agreed that current events were crystalizing the need for good democratic governance that is responsive and accountable to the people.
Unlike many conversations I was having at the time, I didn’t leave the call with greater despair. Instead, I left with a story: the story of Sumando, which was founded in 2001, after a crisis wherein Argentina saw five different presidents over two weeks. In that moment of profound instability, a group of college students came together to start a national civics program so that new generations could understand what is at stake in politics and policy-making.
Speaking with Ve, I learned two things: problems confronting national democracies are not unique and therefore should not be addressed in silos; and in moments of crisis, young people can act decisively and effectively. I left the call feeling hopeful about the work that Democracy Moves was doing to facilitate conversations like ours—ones that bridge borders, offer a chance to exchange best practices, and even inspire hope.
More than 200 participants attended the virtual conference in October 2020, and the panel-style format and breakout sessions brought together unlikely collaborators. Today, the participants communicate through WhatsApp and weekly meetings as members of the Democracy Moves network.
While the current moment sees much of the world facing inward towards national affairs, there is a great deal to be learned from, and by collaborating with, other democratic societies around the world. Whether through pro-democracy protests in Thailand, Belarusian resistance, or the globally resonant Black Lives Matter movement, people are drawing up similar tools, considerations, and energy to create and defend institutions based on ideas of democratic equality and freedom. Democracy Moves aims to provide a platform and learning space for these movements.
Instead of working on national civics education, this summer saw me learn global democratic civics—civics for an interconnected and interdependent world.