Challenges to Democracy

Challenges to Democracy

Initiated to commemorate the Ash Center's tenth Anniversary, "Challenges to Democracy" was a public dialogue series on ten challenges to our democratic form of government.

For a complete list of past events, click here.

For more media and event summaries, check out the Challenges to Democracy tumblr.

For the Challenges to Democracy blog, click here.

Why Challenges to Democracy?
Democratic governance in the United States is being tested. The growing wealth and income gap between the wealthiest and the rest is testing our sense of fairness, social mobility and equal opportunity. Economic inequality also threatens to undermine the principle of political equality upon which our country is founded. The boundaries of executive power, often expanded in the name of maintaining national security, is testing our sense of balance between civil liberties and due process on the one hand, and our heightened levels of alert and anxiety on the other. Our democracy is also tested by the seemingly intractable issue of reconciling our collective views on immigration and by the promise of technology to increase democratization and participation, muted by evidence that it also serves to amplify the voices of the elite.

10th Anniversary of Roy and Lila Ash’s Investment in “Fragile Institution of Democracy”
In September 2013, in honor of its tenth anniversary, the Ash Center for Democratic Governance launched Challenges to Democracy, a public dialogue on ten challenges to our democratic form of government. The Ash Center assembled the nation’s leaders in thought and in practice, from scholars and policymakers to public intellectuals, journalists and artists to broaden and deepen public dialogue around what its founder Roy Ash called the “fragile institution of democracy” with a focus on how we might preserve and adapt this form of government to safeguard our future. The goal of the two-year series, which ended in the Fall of 2015, was not simply to name the greatest challenges our democracy faces today, but to put forward and give due attention to the promising solutions we need.

The centerpiece of the anniversary celebration series was its voices. Participants and speakers included well-known scholars, thought leaders, journalists, and elected officials as well as activists, artists and other national figures making a recognizable impact in the field. Ash Center Director and Daewoo Professor of International Affairs Anthony Saich, along with Ford Foundation Professor of Democracy and Citizenship Archon Fung, lead the anniversary series. Also integral in the series were HKS faculty members including Alex Keyssar, Merilee Grindle, Tarek Masoud, Matthew Baum and Jennifer Mansbridge, as well as young researchers – both junior faculty and Ash Center Democracy Fellows – working on the frontiers of scholarship in democratic theory and practice. Each speaker brought a distinct view on the nature of the challenge under discussion and an important contribution to how to fix the problem.  You can find all of our past Challenges to Democracy events here

Scholarly, Cultural, and Media Events to Engage a Broad Audience
Challenges to Democracy panelWe have engaged a broader audience in these events through partnerships with broadcast, print and online media outlets, arts and culture venues, think tanks and academic research centers, national nonprofits and professional associations. Challenges to Democracy leverages several formats in order to reach multiple communities: the general public and concerned citizens; academic community including Harvard University students and faculty; elected officials and policymakers; advocacy groups; professional associations; the art community; and more. No matter the format, each event is driven by intellectual content, focusing on “what to do” more than “how it works.” Examples of event formats include lectures broadcast through public radio; Harvard-wide panel discussion in the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum; a theatrical performance followed by panel discussion with the playwright and topic experts; art exhibit opened with a formal reception and Q&A session; film screenings coordinated with intimate round table conversations.