Last month, Vanguard Africa co-founder Chris Harvin and I held a conversation at the National Press Club with Alliance for Peacebuilding CEO Uzra Zeya to discuss a new film released last month, Free Trip to Egypt. Now more than ever the ideas of civility, listening to one another, and creating conversation have never been more important, particularly with the rise of violence motivated by fear and repressive regimes trying to drive people apart in order to maintain power. The filmmaker, Tarek Mounib, had a vision to bring Americans of different faiths on a free trip to Egypt — where many overcame their prejudices and saw that local Egyptians and Muslims have many of the same challenges that Americans often face in their daily lives. It is a transformational film.
This experience is relevant to what we are doing at Vanguard Africa. Chris and I come from entirely opposite ends of the political spectrum; and Uzra's experience is more in governance and diplomacy than in campaign work. But Chris and I have partnered to take down dictators — including with Vanguard Africa in the Gambia — and to build democracy around the world. Indeed, this is an issue that we both care deeply about and one that transcends our political differences. Similarly, Uzra provided a unique perspective about what happens after campaigns, mainly in terms of governance and how creating conversation and overcoming divisions are so vitally important. Uzra saw this firsthand during her time at the U.S. State Department and in her capacity as a peacebuilder thereafter.
I believe that we stand at a supremely challenging, but exciting, time for democracy worldwide. There are more ways for people to get involved than ever before and make their voices heard, but nefarious actors also have more opportunities to corrupt democracy and spread disinformation. We have seen, though, that reality and truth still beats fake the world over — which makes it even more important for people to have real conversations with their friends and neighbors on issues where they might not fully agree and not just retreat into their "silos" where agreement is the norm.
Free Trip to Egypt, and the themes encouraged therein and discussed afterward, help us to rediscover what is important in life. We can still come together and strengthen our democracies, but it starts with people having real conversations and actually listening to each other.
You can find out more about the "Pledge to Listen" campaign here: https://www.freetriptoegypt.com/ and watch the video of our panel here: https://www.facebook.com/FreeTripToEgypt/videos/2240002019429556/