The question of our democratic future is more urgent, complex and exciting than ever. As the world stands at a crossroads, more than 140 world leaders and experts convened in New York City for the launch of the TED Democracy initiative, a project that aims to shift the narrative on democracy, accelerate solutions to support a robust civic culture and contribute to a more collaborative pro-democracy community globally. This landmark event spotlighted more than 20 influential speakers from seven countries, charting a course for a democratic future fueled by innovative tactics and transformative visions.
The event: The launch of the TED Democracy initiative, hosted by TED’s senior director of impact Logan McClure Davda, TED curator Cloe Shasha Brooks
When and where: November 14-15, 2023 at the TED World Theater in New York City
Speakers: Ian Bassin, Tessza Udvarhelyi, Yordanos Eyoel, Bret Stephens, Fatma Karume, Olesya Khromeychuk, Divya Siddarth, Samar Ali, Clint Brewer, Sarah Longwell, Gabriel Marmentini, Jordan Klepper, Saket Soni, Katie Fahey, Sam Gregory, Lindiwe Mazibuko, Daniella Ballou-Aares, adrienne maree brown, Baratunde Thurston, Sofia Ongele
Music: Vocalist, composer and teacher Sarah Elizabeth Charles brings her signature, soulful jazz vocals to the TED stage, performing “Blank Canvas” and “One World.”
The talks in brief:
Ian Bassin, lawyer and writer
The authoritarian playbook has seven steps – all of which have already been attempted in the US, says lawyer Ian Bassin. He explains that we can all make choices that will protect and strengthen democracy, inviting everyone to reconsider their role in the everyday fight for freedom.
Tessza Udvarhelyi, movement builder
A democracy requires more than a constitution and elections, says activist Tessza Udvarhelyi. She shares how the people of Budapest, Hungary are overcoming authoritarian norms to rebuild a local democratic government, offering a daunting lesson: “Enjoy your democracy when you have it, but don’t ever get too comfortable with it,” she says.
Bret Stephens, journalist and editor
Democracy’s strength doesn’t rely on citizens always agreeing with one another, but rather in navigating and managing their disagreements. In conversation with democracy entrepreneur Yordanos Eyoel, columnist Bret Stephens shares simple ways that we can disagree more effectively, challenge our own views and strengthen democracy in the process.
Fatma Karume, lawyer and human rights advocate
Democracy may be an abstract concept, but it holds the very essence of our autonomy and humanity, says lawyer and human rights advocate Fatma Karume. She tells the harrowing story of Tanzania’s slide into autocracy in 2017, how she found the will to keep speaking out under personal attack and the importance of community in the fight for democracy.
Olesya Khromeychuk, historian and writer
“A flourishing democracy next door is a scary thing for an autocrat,” says Ukrainian historian Olesya Khromeychuk. She details the history of Ukraine’s long struggle for democracy — against Russian tsars, communist dictators and now the Kremlin’s army — and shares three lessons for anybody facing their own fight for democracy.
Divya Siddarth, social technologist and political economist
We don’t have to sacrifice our freedom for the sake of technological progress, says social technologist Divya Siddarth. She shares the story of an AI built by and for the people, offering a vision of a world where technology doesn’t destroy democracy — but expands it.
Samar Ali, law professor and peacemaker, and Clint Brewer, public affairs strategist
Professor Samar Ali (a Democrat) and journalist Clint Brewer (a Republican) seem very different on the surface, but their friendship illustrates the value in discarding the “scare script” — the process by which we demonize others. Together, they share simple ways to fight polarization in everyday life.
Sarah Longwell, strategist
In 2020, political strategist Sarah Longwell initiated a campaign to convince her fellow centrist Republicans to vote against Donald Trump. Sharing what the experience taught her about tribalism and voting in the US, she explores why asking people to choose democracy over their political party doesn’t work — and what does.
Gabriel Marmentini, civic educator
For civic educator Gabriel Marmentini, citizenship is about more than voting and paying taxes. It means recognizing that the state cannot solve all our problems alone, moving from being a policy-taker to a policy-maker — and promoting democratic values locally.
Jordan Klepper, writer and comedian
Democracy depends on compromise and discourse. So how do we get better at talking to each other? Comedian Jordan Klepper offers three steps to become more open-minded when talking to someone you disagree with — starting with a willingness to say “I don’t know.”
Saket Soni, labor organizer
Drawing from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and personal experience, labor organizer Saket Soni details the transformative and vital work of immigrants, mostly undocumented, in rebuilding disaster zones, reflecting on where renewed, resilient hope for US democracy really comes from.
Katie Fahey, activist
One person can spark the changes democracy needs. Activist Katie Fahey shares how she went from writing a social media post to leading a successful grassroots campaign to ban partisan gerrymandering in Michigan, proving you don’t need power to make a difference.
Sam Gregory, technologist and human rights advocate
Deceptive and manipulative audiovisual AI is not the cause of societal problems, says technologist Sam Gregory, but it can make them worse. As the line between real and fabricated blurs, he lays out a three-step plan to retain transparency, accountability and liability — and promote AI-infused media literacy against disinformation and deepfakes.
Lindiwe Mazibuko, public leader
In South Africa, a country with some of the world’s highest levels of inequality, many struggle to meet their basic needs. Public leader Lindiwe Mazibuko makes the case that democratic institutions like the country’s constitution aren’t the problem — poor leadership is. Through her nonprofit Futurelect, she’s working to elect a new generation of civic leaders ready to deliver on democracy’s promise.
Daniella Ballou-Aares, business and social impact leader
For too long, businesses in the US have remained on the sidelines while democratic institutions falter. But societal instability has begun to threaten their bottom line. Social impact leader Daniella Ballou-Aares shows us how businesses possess both the ability and the responsibility to help preserve democratic societies.
adrienne maree brown, author and doula, and Baratunde Thurston, writer and comedian
Democracy is dying, and new democratic norms and practices are being born, says writer and activist Baratunde Thurston in conversation with author and doula adrienne maree brown. The two discuss why democracy as we know it is failing — and how we can create more just futures through imagination, replacing leaders with facilitators, and generous acts of care and repair.
Sofia Ongele, coder and activist
Anyone living in some semblance of democracy has the tools to influence government, says Gen-Z coder and activist Sofia Ongele. It’s just a matter of getting creative, embracing your unique powers and having some mischievous fun along the way.