Delivering Democracy Lecture

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The Delivering Democracy Lecture by Arizona State University’s Center for the Study of Race and Democracy is an annual lecture that provides a platform for innovative, solution-oriented speakers to present new ideas on participatory democracy. The keynote speaker this year will be Anderson Cooper of CNN. Matthew Whitaker, the founding director of the Center, will tell us more about the lecture.

Ted Simons: Each year ASU's center for the study of race and democracy presents a lecture designed to promote new ideas on participatory democracy. This year's keynote speaker will be Anderson Cooper of CNN. Here with more on the event is Matthew Whitaker, the founding director of the center for the study of race and democracy. Good to see you again as always.

Matthew Whitaker: Good to see you.

Ted Simons: Delivering democracy lecture, what are we talking about here?

Matthew Whitaker: Something that is more of an event. Resource fair that begins earlier in the day at 2:00. We will have some 40 nonprofit companies, organizations represented in the valley that are there that is going to provide information to everybody about everything from midwifery, to saving money on your energy bill, voter advocacy, and all sorts of things. We will move them into the sanctuary, treated to a Gospel concert by one of the best choirs in the United States. Some say south of heaven. And then Anderson Cooper is going to come on to be the highlight of the evening. He is going to deliver an address about the ways in which the media, in particular, can play a critical role or has played a critical role and can play even a better role in helping people understand the ways in which democracies and emerging democracies work. Their struggles and some of the things that are best practices in terms of how to maximize democratic principles of access.

Ted Simons: Delivering democracy, the lecture. Your group has democracy in the name, platform for ideas on participatory democracy. The key word here is democracy. The key word here is democracy. Define democracy?

Matthew Whitaker: There are so many definitions, but we at the center define democracy as access. A society that has defined by and executed by and shaped by the people. Having equal access and equal say, and particularly through the voting process. In shaping our destiny as a people. We also investigate the ways in which democracy has been defined over the years as it evolved in different societies. We don't claim that there is one definition of democracy. Some people have invoked the small D democracy, the big D democracy, democracy as a principal, something that is tangible. We would like to explore what all of those different meanings are but what people are asking for and shooting for now in our society. We look at it as something evolving.

Ted Simons: What about this concept of democracy as simply something misunderstood or distorted?

Matthew Whitaker: We investigate that as well. What I often tell folks, and they say you direct the center for -- are we actually a democracy? And sometimes I will say technically we are a representative, republic. We're not a true democracy going back to your initial question. A lot of people when they hear democracy, one man, one woman, one vote. We are really a republic. Which means we elect people based upon certain criteria to make decisions for us. And, so, some folks say that is not the best system for us. We like to interrogate what that means.

Ted Simons: Idea on ideas of participatory democracy, to participate, you have to know what to watch out for. You have to watch out for the distortions.

Matthew Whitaker: You do. You have to watch out for them. One thing that we do is monitor all sorts of things. Voting habits. Voting irregularities. What people know about voting. As a professor -- younger population, I will go into class, this was a Monday, how many of you know there is an election tomorrow? And handful of hands went up. And this is in a U.S. history class. So, one of the reasons why I came up with the idea of delivering democracy lecture, I believe we have to deliver our understanding and notions about what democracy is, why it is important and what role we play in shaping it.

Ted Simons: Are these going to be new ideas or ideas simply forgotten or left by the wayside.

Matthew Whitaker: Both. Last year we brought in forest Whitaker. He was very much interested in talking to everybody. Very inspirational, very thoughtful -- and he basically said that we need to think about the ways in which we can incorporate the art and use the arts to understand how people can communicate the ways in which they want their society to function. This isn't something that is new. He certainly put a very unique spin on it using his own life to inspire people to say we all have a responsibility, but this is how you can use your unique talents. For him it was the arts.

Ted Simons: For Anderson Cooper, it will be the media.

Matthew Whitaker: We sent him a little -- this is what we would look for and want from you. And he has been on the front line so many different issues, particularly when we talk about law enforcements, communities, conflicts we have been dealing with, he has been on the front line. And we are very interested in his take on the ways in which the media have reported on this case, researched these cases and the influence they might have in shaping people's public opinion about where we are in society.

Ted Simons: And that's going to be kind of one of those deals where the goal posts will be moving. The media, delivery of news and information is changing rapidly.

Matthew Whitaker: Changes all of the time. And in fact when we designed this lecture, with my ideas and the others, we actually had a media person in mind for this particular lecture. We're so close to the Cronkite school. Most students that I teach downtown are connected with the Cronkite school. We thought it was a natural collaboration. But things are changing so quickly. Cooper is one of those folks that has been on the front line of that constant change and we hope that he can help us understand how to manage it.

Ted Simons: What do you hope people take from the lecture, the day, the event, exhibit, conversation, from the lecture?

Matthew Whitaker: I want them to take away what folks took away last year, and that's number one. We want them to be inspired and we want their interest and love for democracy and the wonderful things that we have in America, we want them to be inspired to get back in, dig in, and be engaged civically. It is going to take that engagement for us to nurture our democracy and take it to the next level. Elected leaders, law enforcement, community folk, black, white, Latino, Asian American, Jewish, Catholic-- we had them all -- in the same room to have a conversation, like a huge public forum about where we are and where we need to go.

Ted Simons: You have a bunch of folks by their nature interested, they wouldn't be there if they were not somewhat interested. How do you get that interest to expand?

Matthew Whitaker: That's why we began with the resource fair. What I'm going to say at the end is we brought you together. We have inspired you -- they're going to be inspired, let me to you. We have given you some food for thought. Perspective and maybe even Marching orders, and now we have introduced you to more than 40 organizations that you can match up some of your talent, skills, interest in to get in and be involved and that will be the responsibility and the charge I will leave them with.

Ted Simons: When, where?

Matthew Whitaker: Saturday, April 25th, resource fair begins at 2:00. Gospel concert will begin at 4:00 and Anderson Cooper will take the stage promptly at 4:30, at Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church in downtown Phoenix, on Jefferson Street.

Ted Simons: 13th, 14th --

Matthew Whitaker: 13th and Jefferson.

Ted Simons: For more information --

Matthew Whitaker: You can log on to CSRD.ASU.EDU, Anderson Cooper democracy event page. Thank you.

Ted Simons: Wednesday on "Arizona Horizon," we'll update the contempt of court hearing against sheriff Joe Arpaio. And we'll hear about Ted-EX Phoenix, a local gathering of inspirational speakers. That's at 5:30 and 10:00 on the next "Arizona Horizon." That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

Video: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

Matthew Whitaker:Founding Director:Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at Arizona State University;

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