The disheartening and tragic events of January 6, 2021, illuminated the fact that democracy is fragile, even here in the United States. Our country has long been a model that so many countries around the world aspire to emulate: the strength of our constitution, separate but equal branches of government, our free and fair elections are a few examples of the valued institutions that have withstood the test of time.
We, and many throughout the world, are grateful that our democratic institutions were strong enough to withstand a sustained onslaught of misinformation campaigns and a violent uprising. Our government remains intact and a peaceful transition of power is underway. Yet, this event did highlight an important point: democracy is a system that requires work, attention, the engagement of an informed citizenry, as well as transparency and accountability. “We the people” rings hollow without representation by and accountability to a nation’s citizens.
Through the U.S. State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program, the World Trade Center Northern California has hosted countless international delegations for open discussions about our democratic institutions, governance, and the importance of civic engagement. Located in Sacramento, the seat of state government, our organization is uniquely qualified to arrange professional meetings between visitors and federal, state, and local officials, educators, students, and activists. Our aim is to strengthen diplomatic ties and provide insight into policies and practices that can be replicated on a global scale.
The Gold Rush region is aptly home to a wealth of knowledge, expertise, and hospitality for our international visitors. Representatives from state agencies graciously meet to discuss their roles in preventing campaign fraud and government waste. Local election boards conduct tours of their facilities to showcase transparency in the elections process, from sorting and counting ballots to confirming voter registration. Community organizers share information about the various programs that engage young people in the civic process, creating life-long voters and empowering the leaders and bridge-builders of tomorrow.
Reflecting on these types of exchanges illustrates the strength of our systems and the extensive number of checks and balances we have in the U.S. They solidify to our international partners, and to our own citizens, that democracy is at work every day. While the politicians at a state or federal house may receive the most attention, it is the people who are the most important part of the process – the coordinators and volunteers at a polling location, the community organizers registering new voters, the auditors examining campaign expense reports, young people learning how to amplify their voices to impact policy change – this is democracy in action.
Democracy requires transparency and accountability to the people and engagement by the people, and achieving true democracy continues to be a work-in-progress. We are honored to be part of that important work and to be able to share our experiences with the world.