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The George Washington Presidential Library at Mount Vernon has released the replay of a historic symposium, The Great Experiment: Democracy from the Founding to the Future, held on November 2-4, 2023. At the event, virtually every speaker agreed that there are significant threats to democracy in America and there is a grave need to improve civics education in America.

View the session replays.

During the three-day event at the home of America’s first president, some of the nation’s most respected historians, authors, journalists, former military leaders, judges, business leaders, and philanthropists discussed the new challenges in protecting democratic government in the United States. 

A key highlight of the symposium was top retired military leaders – General Joseph Dunford, Jr.,  General John Kelly, General Jim Mattis – together on stage for the first time since their retirement, discussing the military's role in democracy. Additionally, renowned business leaders and philanthropists – David Rubenstein, The Carlyle Group Co-Founder and Co-Chairman, and Citadel Founder and CEO Kenneth Griffin – provided their views on why stable democracies are fundamental to commerce and capitalism.

At the symposium, retired General Kelly said, “What's the greatest thing that George Washington did, in my opinion? He did it twice. He went home. All the other stuff that he did, unbelievable stuff that he did, took us to victory in the Revolutionary War and then began to establish how to be a president when there was no guidebook for him to do it. All of that remarkable stuff. But he went home twice. And that lesson is a lesson that, certainly, people in the military understand, and I think has set the standard for politicians and military men and women since then. He went home.”

On protecting democracy, philanthropist and business leader Kenneth Griffin said, “I would really try to understand how to end gerrymandering. The issue with gerrymandering is we continually encourage extremists in both parties when we make a district solid red or solid blue. Now, it becomes a competition amongst extremists, often in our primaries. That results in people in Washington who really shouldn't be in Washington.”

And journalist and author John Avlon said, “A trip to Mount Vernon is good for the soul and good for the head and the heart because it offers us perspective on our problems and also the opportunities and obligations of being an American citizen.”

The event also featured a new national poll on Americans’ views on the future of democracy. Sponsored by The George Washington Presidential Library in publicity partnership with the University of Virginia Center for Politics, this national survey found that Americans have deep concerns about the health of American Democracy, with younger generations skeptical of democracy. More than two-thirds of Americans (67 percent) said democracy in the U.S. is on the wrong track, and 77 percent think democracy is in jeopardy. 

Symposium speakers included:

The full roster of speakers is available here

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