Why the SOTU Made Me Proud to Work in Democracy Assistance

Caption: President Barack Obama, flanked by Vice President Joe Biden (left) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (right), delivers his eighth and final State of the Union (SOTU) address. In addition to listing his policy goals and accomplishments, the President provided a counter-narrative to hyperbolic election-year rhetoric and a reminder of the strength and resiliency of America’s democratic political system.

As a politics nerd, there was no question that I would spend Tuesday night on my couch, listening to the State of the Union (SOTU) address. As someone who has made a career in democracy assistance, the speech held even greater significance: it was an example of democracy in progress.

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An Inclusive Process to Redesign NDI.org

This Wayback Machine screenshot shows NDI’s original website from February 22, 1997. We’ve come a long way! Click here to explore the evolution of NDI’s website.

NDI launched a project to redesign its website this week. The redesign presents an exciting opportunity to put a fresh face on NDI's work, while preserving the depth of content that makes NDI.org such a valuable resource. In keeping with NDI's values and in the interest of meeting your needs, we hope to make this process as open and inclusive as possible...but we need your help!

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Best DemWorks Posts of 2015

Thank you for coming along on NDI’s journey into blogging. Since the DemWorks blog launched in February 2015, we have published over 100 posts and reached 57,000 users in 177 countries around the world. More than 400 of you were gracious enough to let us into your email inboxes through the new subscription feature, which was launched in October. While NDI is not a media organization, we have the world’s deepest pool of democracy experts. We hope you have enjoyed hearing our insights and will join us again in 2016. Please subscribe! Without further ado, here’s my list of the top blog posts from 2015.

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Venezuela, Burma, Burkina Faso: Connect the Democratic Dots…

A Burmese anti-government protest in front of the Petronas Twin Towers. Photo credit: Off2riorob CC BY

In the four weeks between November 8 and December 6, 2015, the peoples of Myanmar (Burma), Burkina Faso and Venezuela delivered surprises: resounding defeats to military rule, strongman domination and populist authoritarianism. These bright spots are the consequence of perseverance by democratic activists in the face of repression. They also highlight the importance of elections as a peaceful means for people to bring about change.

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Tunisia’s Democratic Transition Through the Lense of Four Prominent Advocates

This year, at its annual Democracy Award Dinner to be held on Tuesday, November 10, in Washington, D.C., NDI will honor Tunisia’s democratic transition through the lense of four Tunisians who represent its government, parliament and civil society. The Democracy Award, NDI’s highest honor, is presented annually to individuals or organizations that have demonstrated a commitment to democracy and human rights.

Tunisians Yassine Brahim, Rafik Halouani, Wafa Makhlouf and Sayida Ounissi have been, among others, at the forefront of efforts to advance the democratic transition in their country, reflecting a new generation of democratic leaders. It is leaders from civil society, political parties and government, like those honored with this year’s Democracy Award, who are turning the promise of the Tunisian revolution into real improvement in the daily lives of citizens and make democracy succeed.

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Conflict Transformers: How theater is helping heal ethnic tensions 16 years after war in Kosovo

An interethnic group of actors trained by NDI in conflict transformation shares war stories from audience members at a Playback Theater performance in Prizren, Kosovo. Credit: Arta Qorri

A young Kosovar Serbian actress sinks to her knees and, stricken with grief, expresses her longing for an uncle who is still “missing” 16 years after Kosovo’s ethnic conflict ended in 1999. The Kosovar Albanian man sitting to her left on stage watches mesmerized. It is his story that the actress is telling, and though he is unable to understand her words, spoken in Serbian, he tells the audience after the performance that she has captured the essence of his grief and pain. Through theater, the actors are retelling the history of violence between ethnic Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo in a new way that encourages empathy and healing. At the end of the evening, which is full of audience stories re-enacted, another audience member stands up and asks the interethnic theater group in front of her, “Where have you been for the last 16 years?”

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Hope Emerges in Guatemala as Citizens Call for an End to Corruption

Protesters gather peacefully in Central Plaza in Guatemala City, demanding changes to the political system and the resignation of now ex-President Perez Molina. Credit: Ricardo Marroquin

In recent years, Guatemala has made headlines with bleak statistics illustrating the range of challenges it faces: the country suffers from the fifth highest homicide rate in the world, drug trafficking and narco money have penetrated society, child malnutrition is the worst in the hemisphere, and the state institutions responsible for providing services to Guatemalan citizens are notoriously weak and corrupt. Although those challenges still exist, Guatemala is now stepping back from the brink toward a much brighter future, brought about by citizens demanding more from their elected leaders.

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A Look Back at our International Democracy Day Tweettalk

In recognition of International Day of Democracy, NDI partnered with the International Republican Institute (IRI) and International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) to host an online discussion. Kenneth Wollack, president of NDI, Michael D. Svetlik, vice president for programs at IFES, and Tom Garrett, vice president for programs at IRI, answered eight democracy-related questions posed by @CEPPS and other TweetTalk participants. Using the hashtag #DemTalk, respondents discussed both general shifts in democratic trends across the world and specific examples of programs that create “space for civil society” -- the theme of this year’s Democracy Day.

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Interview: Doctor Gianfranco Pasquino Reflects on Democracy in Latin America

Leer en español 

Professor Gianfranco Pasquino graduated with a degree in Political Science from the University of Turin, where he studied under Norberto Bobbio, and specialized in Comparative Politics with Giovanni Sartori at the University of Florence. Between 1975 and 2012, he was a professor of Political Science at the University of Bologna. He currently teaches at the Bologna Center at John Hopkins University. Pasquino met with Andrea Fernández, NDI resident program officer in Colombia, to discuss the state of democracy in Latin America.

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Creating Space for Civil Society Through Technology and Open Data

Credit: Isabela Bernal - Las2Orillas / NDI Colombia

Today is International Day of Democracy, a day meant to inspire reflection and celebration of the principles of democracy worldwide. This year’s theme, “Space for Civil Society,” serves as a reminder that a strong and active civil society is necessary for resilient democracy. This year’s theme is also a reaction to the fact that civil society faces serious challenges globally. Since the early 2000s, authoritarian regimes have used new methods to limit the ability of civil society to protect the rights of citizens, demand accountability from government and engage in public policy. These limitations extend to the Internet and social media; authoritarian regimes continue to curtail political speech and monitor political dissent online. But just as autocratic regimes are imposing these limitations, civil society is adopting new technologies and using open government data to create new civic space and work in parallel with the interests of open, inclusive government. NDI is supporting these efforts by assisting civil society groups in the creation of international norms and standards for legislative openness and open election data.

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