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SNF Dialogues, ‘Consumers or Citizens’: ‘Democracy Is Something You Do’

WILMINGTON, DE  – “Democracy is something you do, not something you have. Right now, we are treating it like something we have,” was just one of the quotes by Hahrie Han, Director of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University, about the over-commercialization of politics in an era where political marketing permeates almost every aspect of our lives, from traditional media to the digital sphere, during the SNF Dialogues discussion entitled ‘Consumer or Citizens’ held on May 29 at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Delaware. This event was part of the SNF’s ongoing series on Civic Engagement and Civil Discourse.

“If people only experience politics as a spectacle, it’s no surprise that our reactions become more extreme,” Han added. She, along with other experts, addressed the pressing concern of politics becoming a mere commodity people consume, rather than a dynamic process of democratic engagement.

Anna-Kynthia Bousdoukou, iMEdD Managing Director, SNF Dialogues Executive Director, and journalist, kicked off the discussion by posing some questions regarding the over-commercialization of politics, as well as “where we as citizens stand in this environment with regard to the quality of the message we receive from politicians.”

In line with SNF’s overall mission and commitment to empowering humanity, Andreas Dracopoulos, SNF Co-President, noted in his introductory remarks that “many times, we talk about saving our democracy, but there’s something bigger here. It’s about fighting for our own humanity. We are at the point where we have to talk about the need to civically engage in a civil manner.”

Placing emphasis on the vital role of universities, Timothy Shaffer, SNF Ithaca Director and SNF Chair of Civil Discourse in the Biden School of Public Policy and Administration at the University of Delaware, and Sigal Ben-Porath, Presidential Professor of Education and Director of SNF Paideia at the University of Pennsylvania, offered their insights on the intersection of media and democracy.

“The real challenge is that we don’t exist in a place, like universities, where slow and thoughtful interrogation of issues takes place, but we are navigating an environment that is shaped in seconds,” Shaffer noted.

Left to right: Sigal Ben-Porath, Presidential Professor of Education and Director of SNF Paideia at the University of Pennsylvania; Anna-Kynthia Bousdoukou, iMEdD Managing Director, SNF Dialogues Executive Director, and journalist; Timothy Shaffer, SNF Ithaca Director and SNF Chair of Civil Discourse in the Biden School of Public Policy and Administration at the University of Delaware; Hahrie Han, Director of the SNF Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University. Photo: Yan (Yanran Xiong) / We Paint Houses

Ben-Porath pointed out that “the treatment of people less as agents able to shape, voice and express their perspectives, and more as subjects of manipulation through emotional activation, is the main concern in this effort.”

“Politics is the art and science of learning to live together peacefully in a world with limited resources and to figure out the allocation and distribution of those resources in a just and equitable way. And we choose campaigns as a vehicle to do that,” said Valerie Biden Owens, Chair of the Biden Institute at the University of Delaware Biden School and the first woman in the United States to have managed a presidential campaign, stressing the need to safeguard democracy, as well as the media’s responsibility in this effort.

During the event, Anna-Kynthia Bousdoukou discussed with two of the most well-known experts in political campaigning about their insights on the issue. “We think about culture and movies and books in terms of narratives and storytelling, and the big lightbulb for me was realizing it was the same for campaigns,” stressed Mark McKinnon, Political Analyst and Media Producer.

Left to right: Jennifer Palmieri, Political and Communications Strategist and Senior Advisor at Emerson Collective; Anna-Kynthia Bousdoukou, iMEdD Managing Director, SNF Dialogues Executive Director, and journalist; and Mark McKinnon, Political Analyst and Media Producer. Photo: Yan (Yanran Xiong) / We Paint Houses

“I don’t think commercialization is the problem. I think it’s the fact that the country is divided pretty evenly, and outside actions (like political advertising) don’t seem to affect people’s political views,” said Jennifer Palmieri, Political and Communications Strategist and Senior Advisor at Emerson Collective.

The discussion kicked off the Media & Democracy Summit, hosted by the SNF Ithaca Initiative and iMEdD, highlighting the need for informed discussions on the intersection of media, politics, and civic engagement.

Stay tuned for details about the upcoming discussions at snfdialogues.org.

Valerie Biden Owens, Chair of the Biden Institute at the University of Delaware Biden School, and Anna-Kynthia Bousdoukou, iMEdD Managing Director, SNF Dialogues Executive Director, and journalist. Photo: Yan (Yanran Xiong) / We Paint Houses
Anna-Kynthia Bousdoukou, iMEdD Managing Director, SNF Dialogues Executive Director, and journalist. Photo: Yan (Yanran Xiong) / We Paint Houses

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