Kelly Lugbill Clark MPP 2018 was driving along the streets of Kinshasa in April 2015 when the news came over the radio that the death of a young African American man in police custody named Freddie Gray had touched off days of rioting in Baltimore. Clark, winner of the Ash Center’s 2018 Martha H. Mauzy Award for the Advancement of Democratic Governance, was in the Democratic Republic of the Congo helping to oversee human rights and democracy programming for the Carter Center of Atlanta. She was pressed by her Congolese colleagues on why she had traveled thousands of miles to work when America was plainly grappling with human rights issues of its own.
Clark, who hails from just a few hours south of Baltimore in Richmond, Virginia, began to reflect on whether she should shift her focus homeward. “Working internationally doesn't mean you don’t think about how many of these same issues also play out in America,” said Clark.
Clark’s decision to translate her overseas experiences to the world of domestic politics and policy ultimately brought her to the Kennedy School. At HKS, she concentrated in Political and Economic Development and took a number of classes taught by Ash Center faculty affiliates. “I got lucky coming here right when Professors Scott Mainwaring and Khalil Muhammad both arrived,” remarked Clark.
In Professor Mainwaring’s “Building Better Democracies” course, Clark found herself exploring why democracy has been more successful in some contexts than in others. She recalled that “everyone was from a different country, everyone with different experience, and we had all worked either in politics or elections or in some broader sense, democracy-strengthening. Our discussions really made everything come to life.”
Clark also took Associate Professor Quinton Mayne’s highly-regarded urban politics course, which examines how race, ethnicity, and class shape group conflict and cooperation at the local level. “Reading these cases about how minority voters in cities like Atlanta were able to gain a voice, that all of a sudden their issues mattered and were on the table, served as a really strong parallel to the intersections between race, class, and political power in Richmond,” said Clark.
Clark’s passion for her hometown was evident to Mayne. “Kelly is a passionate advocate for social justice, and her reflections on Richmond underscored how pursuing equality and justice through our cities requires asking difficult questions with troubling answers about how race and racism have intersected with class and market economics to shape our cities for the worse,” recalled Mayne.
In both Mayne’s course and Professor Khalil Muhammad’s course on “Race, Inequality, and American Democracy,” Richmond was never far from Clark’s mind. “Being able to see the external perception of Richmond from my classmates—that really challenged my own view of the city and view of my home. It was really helpful for thinking about how we can make things better,” Clark reflected.
Clark and her husband hope to move back to Richmond soon, where she plans to start a nonprofit focused on expanding the political organizing power of residents in the city’s East End, an area of entrenched poverty and political disenfranchisement.
“In some of the lower-income neighborhoods, or districts, where most of the public housing is located, there's really no opportunity outside of electing your own councilor to have your voice heard in city politics,” said Clark. “This lack of economic power translates directly to lack of political power,” she continued. Clark is hoping that she can reverse this political equation and help give voice and political power to those in Richmond who need it most.
A small, intensely blue, frozen pool sits isolated in a sparsely populated area of the Tibetan Plateau in Qinghai, China. It is hard to imagine, but this bit of ice, the Lasagongma Spring, is the start of a river that serves as the lifeblood to 60 million people.
With spring’s arrival, the ice melts and the pool is awash as mountain snows turn to water and flood the valley. Ultimately, the water will flow through China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, entering Vietnam’s Mekong Delta and then emptying into the South China Sea (or the East Sea to the Vietnamese). In total, the waters of the Greater Mekong Basin help feed an estimated 300 million people a year.
In Boston for a performance with Arcade Fire, the Montréal-based rock band he helped found, the Ash Center sat down Will Butler, a 2017 graduate of Harvard Kennedy School’s mid-career MPA program for a conversation on the intersection of public policy, the arts, and his efforts to strengthen a culture of public engagement and participation in government and elections.
Nisreen Haj Ahmad MC/MPA ’08, a former visiting research fellow at the Ash Center, spent the first seven years of her professional career enmeshed in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks as a legal adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team. By the end of her tenure as a Palestinian negotiator, “I was depressed,” she recalls. “I studied law to defend the rights of oppressed people.” However, the minutiae and grinding pace of negotiations led Haj Ahmad to question whether the power of law was sufficient to impact the lives of ordinary Palestinians.
In 2007, wanting to gain new perspective, she seized an opportunity to attend Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) as a mid-career student.
Born and raised in a rural village in central China’s Henan Province, Yuheng Wen MPA ’19, dropped out of middle school at age 13. Now, two decades later, he is at Harvard exploring ways to promote education equality in China in part with the support of the Ash Center’s Dalio Scholars program, which provides scholarships to graduate students from China who are proven leaders in philanthropy or who demonstrate clear philanthropy sector leadership potential.
The Ash Center sat down with Dr. Vu Thanh Tu Anh, Dean of the Fulbright School of Public Policy and Management, the first academic unit of Fulbright University of Vietnam. Dr. Tu Anh, also a non-resident fellow at the Ash Center, was in Cambridge for the 10th anniversary of the Vietnam Executive Leadership Program (VELP), an executive education program run by the Ash Center, which provides public policy training to senior Vietnamese government officials.... Read more about Vietnam Executive Leadership Program Celebrates 10th Anniversary
Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement from the country’s top court Wednesday (June 27). Kennedy has long been a crucial swing vote on key Supreme Court decisions, and his replacement has the opportunity to significantly change the ideological makeup of the court. Maya Sen, associate professor of public policy at Harvard Kennedy School, has researched the political leaning of courts and is an expert Supreme Court watcher. We asked her about the impact Kennedy’s retirement will have on the court and the country.
Wednesday, May 9, a diverse group of Harvard students and alumni premiered impactful videos to an excited crowd at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation. Three months earlier this group, the videos’ creators, had little to no filmmaking skills.... Read more about Community Engagement through Filmmaking
“Our democracy depends on voting,” said Archon Fung, Winthrop Laflin McCormack Professor of Citizenship and Self-Government and director of the Ash Center’s Democratic Governance Program, at the opening of an all-day symposium on increasing voter participation sponsored by the Ash Center; the Institute of Politics; and the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. The event, “Getting to 80%: A Symposium Advancing Voter Participation,” convened on May 3 at Harvard Kennedy School and brought together journalists, technologists, business leaders, elected officials,...
For former US Attorney General Eric Holder, gerrymandering is at the root of many of the most prominent political debates unfolding across the country today. A fairer voting system, Holder believes, wouldn’t tilt the balance towards one political party, but would level the playing field for both voters and political parties.
Written by Miles Rapoport, Senior Practice Fellow in American Democracy, the Ash Center at Harvard Kennedy School and Wendy Fields, Executive Director, Democracy Initiative
For the last forty years, a determined attack on our democracy has been funded by a small cadre of right-wing billionaires. The leaders of this effort are determined to ensure that the decisions of government benefit the corporations and the wealthy, and they have recognized that in order to win on the substance — taxation, deregulation, shrinking government, preventing redistribution — they have to undercut the very structures of our democracy.
Are democracies in peril? The Harvard Kennedy School started the fall 2017 semester with this question and as we enter January the answer still seems elusive. In the past couple of months we've watched Kenya's roller coaster elections, the transformation of Turkish politics and civil society, protests in Venezuela, continued support for populist parties across the globe, and more. Pundits prophetize both a better future and the deterioration and destruction of democracy.
It's difficult to deem which way democracy is trending. So, what's going to happen in the new year? We asked some of the Ash Center's democracy experts to share their thoughts.
In 2010, disenchantment with the sluggish pace of the country’s economic recovery and concern about President Obama’s signature health care reform law led to Republicans up and down the ballot scoring significant electoral gains across the country. Perhaps nowhere was that landslide victory more powerful than in Wisconsin. Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, a Republican, beat his Democratic opponent to capture the governor’s mansion in Madison. Badger State Republicans also won majorities in the Wisconsin State Assembly and Senate, giving them full control of the state government.... Read more about Rebuilding Our Democracy Through Redistricting Reform
rowing up in Norway, Odd Arne Westad lived on the frontier of the Cold War. While the fjords and tundra of this Scandinavian nation may not evoke the iconic images of Berlin’s Checkpoint Charlie or the Korean peninsula’s demilitarized zone, for Westad, the S.T. Lee Professor of US-Asia Relations and Ash Center resident faculty affiliate, the Cold War was an omnipresent fact of life. “Norway was a kind of frontline state with regard to the Cold War,” says Westad.... Read more about Odd Arne Westad: On the Global Roots of the Cold War