"Not many organizations today can trace the core of their work back to 507 BCE. That’s when the first democracy was established in the city-state of Athens, with the goal of putting “ordinary citizens” at the heart of decision-making. Athenian democracy randomly-selected individuals to fill the few existing government, administrative, and judicial offices, to make key decisions.
At the Jefferson Center, the ideals of the original Athenian democracy continue drive our work today. We strongly believe in the power of individuals to tackle complicated issues, and we consistently see a marked change in people after participating in a Citizens Jury or other engagement processes. Once people are given the tools, time, and resources they need to be successful in democratic decision-making, many are inspired to continue creating change in their communities.
But over time, different factors have gotten in the way of democracy working as planned, including corporate interests, suppression of free speech, dissemination of fake news, silencing of the press, intense partisan polarization, and more. Many countries are struggling with these challenges in the 21st century, including both advanced and emerging democracies.
At the New York Times Athens Democracy Forum this September, we’ll work with journalists, international business leaders, policy makers, and attendees from across the globe to address these big issues. While we’re there, we also we want to consider, how do we know democracy is working around the world? That’s not to say we can’t continue to strengthen our democratic practices–but it does give us an exciting starting point.
As a starting point, we’ve highlighted a few of our recent projects as examples of successful democracy in action..."