What can democracy advocates in the US and around the world do when their national governments flout international commitments and take steps toward democratic erosion and authoritarian practice? The following workshop addressed this question.
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The Defending Democracy workshop focused on how US civil society groups can respond to current democratic challenges through and beyond international platforms (Multi-stakeholder initiatives, or MSIs) like the Open Government Partnership (OGP). The US is a global leader in initiating and participating in a number of international MSIs devoted to a variety of topics, on everything from aid transparency to women’s empowerment. Yet the current administration has resisted fulfilling previously existing commitments and backed out of international agreements – something new administrations in other countries have done as well in some cases.
The first half of this workshop presented several cases from at home and abroad of how civil society groups have creatively leveraged international platforms and pivoted their focus to regional and local levels, in the face of resistance to principles previously pledged to in international fora by their national governments. These cases covered a variety of issues – from anti-corruption efforts to tackle beneficial ownership through the Extractives Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI) after the US withdrawal from this process, to regional efforts to combat climate change after the US withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords, to how civil society in other countries have used and have bypassed OGP to pressure new governments whose actions oppose the principles of open government (like in the Philippines).