Citizen Diplomacy Summit: Engaging With People at All Levels, All Sectors

Posted by Joseph Witters
November 18, 2010
Under Secretary McHale Speaks at 2010 U.S. Summit for Global Citizen Diplomacy

About the Author: Joseph Witters serves as a Strategic Planning Officer in the Office of Policy, Planning and Resources for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.

I recently had the privilege to meet and talk with a roomful of dedicated citizen diplomats. When I say a roomful, I am talking about over 400 people who have gathered this week in Washington, D.C., for the U.S. Summit & Initiative for Global Citizen Diplomacy. The November 16-19 event is examining how American citizen diplomats can help shape U.S. foreign relations in the 21st century. The summit, hosted by the U.S. Center for Citizen Diplomacy (USCCD) in collaboration with the U.S. Department of State, has brought together U.S. citizen diplomats and an array of national and international experts to address current global challenges and opportunities.

The summit is a call to action to every American citizen. Whether you are interested in global health, development, higher education, music, art, dance, business, etc., there is something you can do to engage with the world.

During the opening plenary, Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Judith A. McHale welcomed summit participants and encouraged them to continue their ongoing efforts as citizen diplomats.

“We must engage with people at all levels, in all sectors of society. And, as President Obama has stated, we must engage with them on the basis of mutual respect and mutual understanding; an engagement which fosters a spirit of collective action to address our common problems,” Under Secretary McHale stated.

“The task ahead is enormous, and it is not one that government can or should do alone,” added McHale. “If we are to do this job and do it right, we need the help and support of all our citizens. That is why the work you will be doing at this summit is so critical to our efforts.”

I have been impressed and moved by some amazing participants and panelists at the summit. In one panel, I heard an experienced military officer who had served in Afghanistan say, “NGOs in conflict areas are my heroes.” In another panel, I listened to a discussion on virtual exchanges, breaking down language barriers through crowdsourcing, and on the ever-evolving use of mobile phones. Today, more than any time in history, citizen diplomats have tools at their fingertips to connect with and engage with other cultures.

In yet another panel, I listened to the former first lady of Honduras, Mary Flake Flores, recount her story of the overwhelming support her nation received from the American people following the disaster of Hurricane Mitch in 1998. At one point, she was brought to tears as she reflected on the generosity of all those who helped Honduras in its time of need. Her story touched a chord with me, because I was in neighboring Nicaragua when Hurricane Mitch hit, and I remember helping communities to rebuild and clean up after the disaster. Any animosity or reservations they had toward me, a "gringo," immediately went out the door. I was now a brother and friend. I was a young American citizen who learned more about myself by serving others. I was, and continue to be, a citizen diplomat.

To find out what you can do as a citizen diplomat, or to read more about the summit, click here.

Related Content: Opening Plenary of the US Summit & Initiative for Global Citizen DiplomacyPhoto by Rod Oman



R C.
California, USA
November 18, 2010

R.C. in California writes:

“We must engage with people at all levels, in all sectors of society. And, as President Obama has stated, we must engage with them on the basis of mutual respect and mutual understanding; an engagement which fosters a spirit of collective action to address our common problems,”

This statement is a joke coming from this President. Engaging in "Mutual respect and understanding" does not mean bowing down and caving in to other governments. This President has been an embarrassment in foreign policy especially when it comes to his lack of engagement with the Japanese government and its continued sanctioning and continued abduction of American children. It is gutless and pathetic for the President of the most powerful country on earth to continue to cave in to the Japanese government on this issue. Defenseless American born and raised children are being abducted every week from this country and this President doesn't even raise the issue in Japan last weekend. This is teh 2nd time in a year he has CHOSEN not to raise this issue with the Japanese Prime Minster, even though he was asked to by dozens of members of congress. He should be ashamed of himself. Enjoy your holdiays with your children Mr. President. Thousands of us parent of abducted children will not have that luxury. Thanks for nothing AGAIN.

Kenneth C.
Virginia, USA
November 19, 2010

Kenneth C. in Virginia writes:

It now become our problem to reverse 200 yrs. plus of manipulative Governmental tactics. What next baby sit for the President's daughters!

Gerald W.
Nebraska, USA
November 22, 2010

Gerald W. in Nebraska writes:

Outstanding comments on a great effort. I will also continue to be a citizen diplomat.

John P.
November 22, 2010

John P. in Greece writes:

Extremely influential post Mrs. Witters! There is a big difference between a chicken and a hawk!

I used to call it “amateur diplomats”, but your term is far more better than mine. That’s exactly what we all should be: “citizen diplomats”; people who care!

If you participate in a dialogue, you may be a winner. However, if you don’t, you are a loser for sure!

Eric (recently) posted something here saying (among other interesting things) that people who comment (readers too!) are brave enough to do so! I’m sure he meant: “to participate”.
He is right! It’s not that easy to surpass yourself (and the anti-american propaganda).

But, only if you make it “there”, you are not a chicken!

My suggestion to people who read and comment: You must leave all of your “fears” back and be yourself. Moreover, be honest. Even if your opinion is not necessarily accepted, or rejected, or whatever…
This is the biggest gift of Democracy: participate!
There are no black helicopters in the night, no spies that will kill you (except in my country house by the sea –CHUCKLE- I mean the insects), no revenge for what someone writes, or believes.

And SD and DipNote gave us this privilege!

So, the real meaning of my comment is to advice leaders of all the countries, diplomats of everywhere in the globe, civilians, anyone, to participate and “get a chair”.

Let’s write a DipNote!

Nico J.
November 27, 2010

Nico J. in Indonesia writes:

I want to know about US Government's policy on the people of Papua and their Independence movement. Is there any hope for the US Government to support?

New Mexico, USA
November 27, 2010

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ Dept of State Public Affairs & Dipnote staff & Joseph Witters,

So like...this is the place where all one wanted to ask about the Dept of State...,but was afraid to ask, located right???

OK so here's a quandry...or why I have no fear to(chuckle).

Why isn't there an ongoing "channel" of debate here on Dipnote on the two most significant global crisis facing this nation of ours presently?

I'm speaking of Iran and North Korea.

And if you want to add a third...the Mideast Peace process will do.

We have every other subject under the sun here, and it's almost a willfull matter of neglect that the blog isn't addressing these issues except in oblique manner at best.

I don't mean to be critical here, I'm just honestly perplexed as to why when litterally nuclear war could break out inadvertantly on the Korean peninsula starting this week, is the question of the week, "How Can Men and Boys Work to Prevent and Address Gender-Based Violence?"

Ok then, as a lady once put it to me, "The difference between men and boys is the size and price of their toys." then the answer is simply not to be playing "cowboys and indians" with them to have a little peace in the world for women.

And the less we have dictators to "deal with" then the better off everyone else will be in the long run.

If this blog is going to fairly represent US policy and be on the cutting edge of it, then I think not discussing these crisis in public fora isn't serving the public understanding, nor allowing the Dept of State a platform for the feedback from the public in an interactive way that would hasten a solution to them.

IE; To be brave enough to entertain the so-called "hypothetical" in public debate.

You don't want to do so in briefings, and I understand the press will make "news" of it.

But this fora called Dipnote is by definition, "not an official form of communication", therefore it's best service to humanity is as a platform to explore the hypothetical "what if"'s that creative minds may come up with...including those in the Foreign Service.

On the question of whether Dept policy would allow FSO's or the anon. "Senior officials" to engage with the public in such manner...

That's your decision, but remember that you not only risk leaving the public in the dark, but yourselves as well without public support for whatever action is to be taken ultimately.

You know what they say about a well informed public having confidence in its leadership don't you?..."without mystery and uncertainty there would be no conspiracy theory."

ergo...don't be shy in exploring the options on the table with the public. We can handle your uncertainty if you are willing to engage with us.

This is the single best way to improve your public diplomacy efforts and garner greater public understanding of policy as it evolves in crisis.

Think of this as a "perpetual town hall meeting" and get on with it.

Other wise this fora will remain an underachiever compared to its potential to be the best think tank in "thinktank town".

BTW...get the Israelis to build homes for the Paslestinians too, and you just might solve the "settlement issue" and get talks back on track.


New Mexico, USA
November 28, 2010

Eric in New Mexico writes:

P.S. never mind the typos, they just come with the an age of miniturization, just once I'd like to see someone build a computer keyboard 15% larger than normal to avoid hitting more than one key at once while I'm writing in streaming thought... "one off" mode aka; "The lost art of not editing one's gut instict for political reasons."

Nor thjere's a "new Start" (oops...see the need?) TYPOS R US I guess...and that's the least of my worries.

Now here China is wanting to play "mr. reasonable" with it's buddy North Korea, and that will lead folks flat nowhere except here again, round the round after round 2 and an "incident" we "buy the same horse twice"???

Now that would be unnaceptable I think, so if China truly wants to play mr. reasonable, it would conclude talking about it won't solve the problem so long as there's a million man army standing in North Korea.

Better to inform the North Korean leadership that they disband and disarm or China will remove the regime there from power before the US and Allies have no other choice but to do so, and eliminate North Korea's capacity to make war on a kinetic level.

It's not a "meeting of minds" per se that the world needs China to mediate. But rather to become an adult among nations and take responsibility for a national mistake in fostering -by economic and diplomatic support-North Korea's political mindset of aggressive unification for far too long.

When if they want to use words China best be prepared to back them up and remove that regime from power.

In essence something reasonable on the order of;

"You don't get to do that."

I see this becoming the global consensus if indeed the solution is to be a "we" thing.

In the UNSC or any other grouping of willing nations.

By example, the very least one could anticipate as a model is in the US leadership of S. Korean forces. If China is concerned about stability, then it should think wisely about assimmilating North Korea like the "Borg", and then I'll be most happy to have them play "mr. reasonable" forevermore and help everyone else create the peace from scratch and feed some people in the meantime.

I figure they have some incentive to resolve insanity before it makes everyone go nuts on 'lil Kim and son.

First off, if China has to "invade" North Korea because the regime won't pull its forces back from the brink and pre-emption becomes our option on the table along with our allies, then China is acting in its own national security interests, but furthermore defuses any further agressiveness on North Korea's part with a new boss and a new mindset in charge.

Secondly, it's probably the least harmful methodology and grants hope to the North Korean people that they'll enjoy a better diet in perpetuity.

There is no refugee crisis to be contended with, being they don't have to leave because In a successful strategic and diplomatic movement of Chinese forces to remove the regime, I just can't see the North Korean army getting over the shock of China taking over that they'd put up a serious fight that would cause mass movement of peoples.

North Korea has been guarding the "front door" for so long that it will be mostly a "walk through" for China as they come in the back.

And in many respects that's karma's return for causing China international embarrasment in failed 6 party talks and threatening the peace of it's major trading partners.

It's up to Diplomats to convince China that there arn't a whole lot of options left and that the probability of war is exponentially greater if 'lil Kim and son remain in power fostering a personality cult reminicint of "Jim Jones and the Koolaid cult."

Forest Gump was right.

But failing to act can be just as stupid.

So anyone @ State want to tell me why we couldn't help China make this work for Lasting Peace in this region and the world?

Lookin' forward to the feedback...and/or results.

I won't suggest it would be easy to get folks to trust in order to create the peace from scratch in all of it.

But I'm hoping folks can make it so without a shot fired frome here on out.

Mothers everywhere will thank you.


New Mexico, USA
November 28, 2010

Eric in New Mexico writes:

Post-post script on the civilian end of the deal RE: The hypothetical Chinese "invasion" of North Korea asumming it goes peacefully or not; That one way or another The North Korean Army gets disbanded and leadership removed, retired, whatever is their fate beyond that is another debate.

There's a "given" realization in the process of regime replacement therapy that there is no "creation of instability" when removing a regime that threatens imminent war and perpetuates instability while in position of power.

North Korea needs a Chinese version of the "Marshall Plan" with the world's help rebuilding modern institutions and educating the people as to the ways and means of "getting a life" in this 21st century globalized society most of the rest of the world now lives in.

That will take a few years post the change of status quo now threatening the peace.

China's got a little experience in "re-education" but this is more on an integrated social level to introduce folks to the larger sceme of things and bring them out of their isolation as individuals. The Chinese people will be freer as a result to help build their own nation in their doing so for others.

Thus creating hope among the North Korean people that America and Allies arn't the "enemy" they were led to believe we were, as we provide all the support that the Chinese need to make it a "we" thing to everyone's benefit and stability.

If China wants a true partnership with us and "Stability", then this might just be the ticket.

If the Chinese symbol for "Crisis" in the I Ching is "danger" over "opportunity" has to pay attention to the "changing lines" to discern one's path in correctness with the future one seeks.

All this requires bold and swift consensus apart from the regime in question, for this will indeed set precedent on the world stage.
Beyond that of the example for "regime replacement therapy" America has already set in correcting two of its own long standing foreign policy mistakes over this last decade.

China has a mistake to correct.

Ultimately in the after-the-jump security outlook, both China and the rest of the nations involved can find a lower level of military might directed to no good or for anyone's sustanainable economic interest in the region.

If our President is to ever see a nuclear-free world in his (or my) lifetime, this is key to it.

He might want to get some primetime airtime and discuss it for a few hours with the global public, and get into detail of how it can be done if everyone's willing to live in a world without dictators , terrorists, and tyrants that wannabe the other two, or both at once.

The debate is really all about the how to get rid of them in a cost effective manner, human and otherwise. And what you create to fill that void in political and social structure.

This is really not a debate that waits for intellectuals or anyone else for that matter, as it is prefaced by circumstance and threats to the peace of nations.

Lookin' to sieze the opportunity in the midst of dangererous thought processes.
So if The Sec. of State defines "diplomacy" as "the art of getting folks to do what they don't want to do without shooting them."

Thus my suggesting "a bill" be sent to enlighten folks in China what responsibility is all about if they don't recognize it.

Don't shoot me if you disagree with me, I'm doin' my best to become a diplomat and a New Mexican under one hat.




Latest Stories

November 9, 2010

Gay Rights Are Human Rights

Writing for the U.S. Department of State DipNote blog, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria… more