UVA’s Democracy Gathering Has Wrapped, But Work Remains

October 23, 2023 By Mike Mather, mike.mather@virginia.edu Mike Mather, mike.mather@virginia.edu

Larry Sabato shielded his eyes from the Paramount Theater’s bright stage lights and squinted into the audience that had come to hear him and his colleagues talk about the upcoming elections.

“I always start off a panel by asking the courtesy from the audience of turning off your phones,” Sabato said. “Now I am going to make an exception. If you’re expecting a phone call to become the next speaker of the U.S. House, you may keep that phone on.”

His quip illustrates the oddities and the complexities facing the nation, as the House of Representatives agreed to oust its previous speaker, but can’t agree on a replacement.

“It’s embarrassing for the whole country,” said Sabato, professor of politics and director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

Related Story

‘Inside UVA’ A Podcast Hosted by Jim Ryan
‘Inside UVA’ A Podcast Hosted by Jim Ryan

For many who attended Sabato’s “Live Crystal Ball” panel conversation, or any of the dozens of discussions and workshops offered as part of the Karsh Institute’s Democracy360 three-day event, the state of affairs is more than just embarrassing. To some, it’s a sign that domestic and global democracy is in peril.

“My concern is that people think our democracy is inevitable,” Karsh Institute Executive Director Melody Barnes told UVA Today at the start of the event. “It’s not. It requires our engagement, our attention and our hard work.”

That’s what drew thousands of people to Charlottesville and the University late last week, to understand what challenges democracy is facing, and what to do about it.

The panel discussions and workshops touched on a raft of ways to shore up the nation’s democratic ideals, including how to hold elected leaders accountable, how to better educate citizens and how to disagree more productively.

“Democracy360 allowed me to engage in conversations with people who hold different perspectives and viewpoints from my own and to forge new relationships with others who care deeply about the health and vitality of democracy,” Barnes said. “I’m energized by the ideas that were generated and the steps taken to advance our work immediately and in the future.”

UVA President Jim Ryan participated in three panel discussions, including one session focused on the responsibilities UVA has to the community it calls home.

Ryan listening in group discussion

Ryan listens as panelists talk about the importance of UVA being a good neighbor to Charlottesville and Albemarle County, including being an avenue for employment and advancement for local residents. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)

“It became really clear to me very early on that UVA and the greater Charlottesville community depend on each other, and vice versa,” he said.

Ryan told the audience that he and other University leaders have worked to make the institution more valuable to the region, not just for providing things like health care, but for jobs. That involved knocking down historical barriers that either kept residents from applying to work at UVA or kept UVA from hiring them.

The next step, Ryan told the crowd, “was to pay our employees a living wage, which had been an issue people had been talking about from the time I was in law school.”

“I feel like we have a certain obligation to the community,” he continued. “We should be an institution that lives our values. If we are preparing students to be ethical leaders, we should demonstrate what ethical leadership looks like.”

That’s the reason the Karsh Institute put on Democracy360, to be a leader and to leverage the University’s vast expertise in promoting and protecting democracy.

“Our guests, speakers, and hosting partners share a commitment to a future in which democracy’s aspirations and reality are aligned, and to working urgently, collaboratively, and creatively to make that happen,” Barnes said. “I hope everyone who participated in Democracy360 sees UVA’s Karsh Institute as a place to do that important work.”

All Democracy360 events that took place at the Paramount Theater were recorded and will be available to view on VPM’s YouTube channel. VPM served as the Karsh Institute’s streaming partner for the event, and The Atlantic served as the official media partner.

Media Contact

Mike Mather

Managing Editor University Communications