2021 Summit Highlights


The 2021 Denver Democracy Summit was hosted virtually by the Josef Korbel School of International Studies in partnership with the Alliance of Democracies Foundation.

The event was a complement to the Copenhagen Democracy Summit, a high-level strategic forum organized by the Alliance of Democracies Foundation over the summer of 2020.

Speakers at the Denver Democracy Summit included former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former NATO Secretary-General and Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, among many others.

Through keynote speakers and moderated panels, the Summit explored four key themes:

  • The State of U.S. Democracy
  • Democratic Erosion Around the World
  • Climate Change, COVID-19, Disinformation and Other Existential Threats to Democratic Governance
  • Civic Engagement

February 25, 2021

Thursday’s sessions explored democratic erosion around the world and the impact of ongoing challenges—from rising inequality to the coronavirus pandemic and sophisticated disinformation campaigns—that have eroded trust in democratic governance and increased the risk of democratic decline. Speakers examined these trends and challenges, exploring how citizens and political leaders alike can safeguard democratic ideals in a rapidly changing world. Explore the menus below to see details and recordings of the 2021 Summit.

  • Democratic Erosion Around the World: Trends, Challenges and Responses

    The State of Democracy Around the World

    • Madeleine Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State
    • Michael Abramowitz, President, Freedom House
    • Moderator: Fritz Mayer

    Democracy is under pressure, even outright assault, around the world. This session takes stock of current global trends in democratic governance, explores what is at the root of democratic erosion, and examines both the imperative and the potential for reinstating and bolstering democracy globally.

    Regional Perspectives on Democratic Decline

    • Andrés Velasco, Dean of the School of Public Policy, London School of Economics
    • E. Gyimah-Boadi, Interim CEO and Board Chair of Afrobarometer; former Executive Director of the Ghana Center for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana)
    • Milada Anna Vachudova, Jean Monnet Chair and Associate Professor of Political Science, UNC Chapel Hill
    • Milan Vaishnav, Director and Senior Fellow, South Asia Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
    • Moderator: Ryan Heath

    On every continent, what had been considered consolidated democracies have begun to see their democratic institutions weaken in the face of deliberate executive aggrandizement, populist appeals, the politicization of judicial systems, and attacks on independent media and civil society. In the midst of this decline, citizens are demanding better governance and pro-democracy movements are seeking reforms from Hong Kong to Belarus. This panel brings together experts to discuss trends and challenges across global regions and examines counter-movements and possible pathways to reinvigorating the pursuit of democratic governance.  

    Great Powers, Democratic Decline, and Global Liberalism

    • James Goldgeier, Robert Bosch Senior Visiting Fellow, The Brookings Institution; Professor of International Relations, American University; Co-Director, Bridging the Gap
    • Kori Schake, Director of Foreign and Defense Policy Studies, AEI
    • Moderator: Jeanne Meserve

    Contemporary liberal democracy has long had its spiritual home in Western Europe and the United States — and the North Atlantic region has been a locus of global democracy promotion efforts. Today, democratic decline threatens the socio-political fabric of the European Union, with Russia serving as an authoritarian model that populist leaders across Europe seek to emulate. How can the countries of the North Atlantic reverse democratic erosion in their midst? And can they credibly come together to combat the influences of illiberal great powers and advance liberalism globally?  


  • Climate Change, COVID-19, Disinformation and Other Existential Threats to Democratic Governance

    Threats to Democracies

    • Condoleezza Rice, 66th U.S. Secretary of State
    • Moderator: Fritz Mayer

    This discussion with Condoleezza Rice, the sixty-sixth secretary of state of the United States and current Director of the Hoover Institution, will focus on the constantly-evolving yet persistent challenges posed by information warfare, civil unrest, climate change, and infectious disease outbreaks. Secretary Rice is uniquely positioned to address whether current political institutions can adequately address these global developments.

    Protecting Democracy from Disinformation: The Case of Taiwan

    • Audrey Tang, Digital Minister, Taiwan
    • Moderator: Jonas Parello-Plesner, Executive Director, Alliance of Democracies Foundation

    Taiwan’s comprehensive approach to mitigating the effects of disinformation has been held out as an example to other open democracies combating disinformation and media manipulation. This discussion with Audrey Tang, Taiwan’s Digital Minister since 2016, will focus on her country’s efforts to engage citizens, businesses, and civil society in the government’s fight against disinformation, and how democracies can learn from and work together to reestablish a shared sense of truth.

    Protecting Democracy from Disinformation

    • Adrian Shahbaz, Director of Technology and Democracy, Freedom House
    • Jan Neutze, Senior Director, Defending Democracy Program, ‎Microsoft
    • Jason Crow, Congressman, Colorado
    • Moderator: Jeanne Meserve

    Disinformation has emerged as one of the most pressing challenges for the world’s democracies. From foreign interference in elections to the unchecked proliferation of conspiracy theories on social media, this session will explore how disinformation has undermined democratic functioning and the efforts of government, business, and civil society to mitigate and potentially thwart this damage.

    Can Democracies Manage the Climate Crisis?

    • Jessica Green, Associate Professor of Political Science and the School of Environment at University of Toronto, St. George
    • Annika Hedberg, Head of Sustainable Prosperity for Europe programme, European Policy Center
    • David Orr, Paul Sears Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Oberlin College
    • Moderator: Ryan Heath

    This session will explore climate change as an existential threat to democratic governance and the role of science and evidence-based policy-making in confronting this threat. Though the scientific community has reached a consensus on the causes and consequences of a changing climate, large segments of the public the world over continue to contest both its causes and effects and remain largely indifferent to prioritizing climate action over other, more immediate, public policy concerns. This panel will explore the prospects for collective action on climate change and how other issues—from declining trust in government to mistrust of expertise—complicate any potential action. 

    Governing Challenges: COVID-19, Climate Change, and Civil Unrest

    • Kate Brown, Governor of Oregon
    • Moderator: Jeanne Meserve

    In 2020, citizens in Oregon grappled with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, one of the most destructive wildfire seasons on record, and the deployment of federal law enforcement officers to Portland in response to protests against police brutality. The state has also confronted right-wing extremism over a long period of time. This discussion with Kate Brown, Governor of Oregon, will focus on governing amidst crisis and the importance of democratic principles such as accountability, voice, and legitimacy in addressing existential challenges.

    Recap of the day’s sessions with Dean Fritz Mayer and Kevin Kallaugher, Cartoonist at The Economist, and Denver Democracy Summit Artist in Residence


February 26, 2021

Friday’s sessions focused on the state of democracy in the United States and the underlying trends that culminated in the January 6th insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Discussions also centered on democratic engagement in our current moment, both in the U.S and around the world, with a focus on young people’s actions and attitudes toward government and the importance of political and civic engagement in its many forms. Explore the menus below to see details and recordings of the 2021 Summit.

  • Introduction


    • Jeanne Meserve, former anchor and correspondent, CNN and ABC News
    • Ryan Heath, Senior Editor, Politico

    Welcome and Introduction

    • Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Chairman, Alliance of Democracies, Former Prime Minister of Denmark, and Former Secretary General of NATO
    • Fritz Mayer, Dean, Josef Korbel School



  • State of U.S. Democracy and Implications for the Democratic World

    Can the United States Lead a Global Democratic Vanguard?: Implications for the World

    • Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Chairman, Alliance of Democracies, Former Prime Minister of Denmark, and Former Secretary General of NATO
    • Daniel Twining, President, International Republican Institute (IRI)
    • Derek Mitchell, President, National Democratic Institute (NDI)
    • Nicole Bibbins Sedaca, Kelly and David Pfeil Fellow at the George W. Bush Institute; Professor of the Practice of International Affairs, Georgetown University
    • Moderator: Jeanne Meserve

    From the false claims of fraud in the presidential election to the January insurrection and assault on the U.S. Capitol, the United States’ democratic system has been stress-tested. As a new administration takes on the challenge to get the U.S. back at the table to re-engage on an array of global issues, President Biden has called for a summit of democracies. But can the U.S. lead this global initiative? This session will bring together experts from both sides of the Atlantic who engage with the world’s emerging and established democracies to discuss why it is important to create an alliance of democracies and whether the U.S can or should try to stay at the helm.

    State of U.S. Democracy: How Much Trouble are We In?

    • Sarah Lenti, Former Executive Director, The Lincoln Project
    • Steve Israel, Former U.S. Representative, New York and Director, Cornell University Institute of Politics and Global Affairs
    • Susan Glasser, Staff Writer, The New Yorker
    • William Kristol, Editor at large, The Bulwark
    • Moderator: Ryan Heath

    This session brings together prominent commentators to explore what many see as a crisis of U.S. democracy. How serious and enduring is it, how did we get here, and what does the future hold? 

    Rising Beyond Partisanship

    • Jeff Flake, former U.S. Senator, Arizona
    • Michael Bennet, U.S. Senator, Colorado
    • Moderator: Jeanne Meserve

    This moderated conversation with Senate leaders on opposite sides of the aisle will focus on the challenges facing U.S. democracy—from rising partisanship to the collapse of social cohesion, declining trust in government, and the aftershocks of the January 6th attack on the Capitol—and ways forward, including the importance of political and civic engagement in our current moment.

    A Hard Look in the Mirror: Race and American Democracy

    • Leslie Herod, State Representative, Colorado
    • Moderator: Jeanne Meserve

    In the United States, recent decades of rising partisanship and declining civic participation have layered on top of long-standing democratic deficits based on deliberate political exclusion—of Black, Indigenous, and other Americans of color, women, and other marginalized groups—and structural socio-economic inequality. The need to openly confront the country’s violent history of exclusionary domestic politics as well as its inconsistent adherence to liberal values abroad has boiled over in the midst of an alarming contemporary assault on democratic rules and norms.  If the U.S. is to be among the leaders of an effort to confront the modern crisis of liberalism and resuscitate democratic rights around the world, what must the US do to confront its own democratic record at home and in its foreign policy practices abroad?



  • Civic Engagement

    Democracy in Action: Youth Movements for Social Change

    • Hasler Iglesias, Youth Coordinator, Voluntad Popular, Venezuela
    • Jayathma Wickramanayake, UN Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth
    • Juela Hamati, Former President, European Democracy Youth Network
    • Tay Anderson, Member, Denver Public Schools Board of Education and Community Activist
    • Moderator: Ryan Heath

    This session will bring together young leaders from around the globe to discuss public protests as a strategy for social change, how and whether to translate energy into legislative change, and how democracies can meet the challenges of the 21st century. 

    Civic Engagement and Robust Democracies

    • Christopher Walker, Vice President for Studies and Analysis, National Endowment for Democracy
    • Dawn Nakagawa, Executive Vice President, Berggruen Institute
    • Jerzy Pomianowski, Executive Director, European Endowment for Democracy
    • Moderator: Jeanne Meserve

    This session will explore civic and political engagement in the U.S. and abroad, taking into account the changing nature and norms of democratic engagement in the digital age where the rapid dissemination of information—and disinformation—have upended conventional forms of political participation. The public square is now online, and social media has catalyzed mass virtual and in-person movements to affect social and political change. This panel examines the extent to which new forms of communication and engagement ultimately bolster democratic governance through greater representation and enfranchisement or by contrast leave publics subject to harmful manipulation. 

    The Future of Democracy

    • Jared Polis, Governor of Colorado
    • Moderator: Naazneen Barma

    Robust democracies require ongoing and sustained citizen engagement to uphold democratic institutions and norms. Colorado Governor, Jared Polis, will close the two-day virtual conference and share his thoughts on how our democracy might be made stronger, fairer, more responsive, and more equitable and the important role civic engagement plays in making this possible.

    Recap of the day’s sessions with Dean Fritz Mayer and Kevin Kallaugher, Cartoonist at The Economist and artist in residence for the Denver Democracy Summit


2021 Denver Democracy Summit Speakers

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