Seeds of democracy: Chester area rich with hands-on history

“Virginia [the state] is an incredible opportunity to teach people case studies in democracy,” said H. Edward “Chip” Mann.  “We are open about it [knowing] that we made mistakes.  We are not afraid to talk about our mistakes.”  Mann, executive director of the Federal Commission for the Jamestown 400th Commemoration Commission, was a field leader for 20 undergraduate journalism students from Bangladesh, India and SirLanka.  

Hosted by the University of Virginia’s (U.Va.) Center for Politics, this was the group’s first field trip during a four-week stay learning about the impact of new media on democracy.  They arrived June 3 in Charlottesville.  The program was offered by the Center for Politics’ Global Perspectives on Democracy initiative together with Relief International, with support from the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Along with hands-on new media experience through internships with local media outlets and organizations, the academic residency was combined with study of new media’s importance to modern journalism, freedom of expression, American history and government, politics, pluralism and civic engagement.  

 Accompanied by Daman Irby and Margaret Heubeck, staff members for the Center for Politics, one of the group’s first field trips was a Saturday outing to Drewry’s Bluff.  “Virginia was a leader during colonial times.  The state produced four out of the first five presidents,” Mann said.

“Drewry’s Bluff is a location to talk about the price the country paid for by not reconciling issues and not working together.  How slavery dragged the country down.” He added that the country has only recovered from the war that involved Drewy’s Bluff in the last 50 years.  Mann, whose great-great-grandfather fought in the Civil War, shared his family’s history and involvement in the war.  

The students were engaged in Mann’s lesson on Drewry’s Bluff with several of the young journalists photographing along the trail.  Shruuda Ravindrn, a photojournalism student from the University of Madras in India, shared observations from her trip thus far.

“Everything’s so different from what we have in India.  Perspectives, on the way we think.  It is such a really big picture.”  She was very glad to be able to be part of the program adding, “All peoples are so similar - government - when it comes to corruption - making it, doing it, it’s the same.”  She said the classes were to help them on how they can make their democracy better.  She was also was enjoying the other students from Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, and learning their countries differences and talking with them about their democracies.

“Democracy requires engaged, civic-minded citizens,” says Irby, director of operations for the Center for Politics in a press release. “Global Perspectives on Democracy provides young people from across the world with the education and tools they need to become civic leaders in their own countries.”

Along with several field trips throughout Virginia within a two-hour drive from their base during the month, the press release says the academic residency included lectures by distinguished scholars and practitioners in the fields of media and politics. Virginia Supreme Court Justice Bill Mims, former U.S. Sen. and Connecticut Gov. Lowell Weicker, former U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka Ashley Wills, political journalist Craig Crawford, actress Daphne Maxwell Reid, Chief Stephen Adkins of the Chickahominy tribe, U.Va. politics professor Larry Sabato and others shared their perspectives and experiences.

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