Citizen Diplomacy -- The Role of the Individual in Foreign Affairs

by Sherry Mueller
On March 26, 2024, the Public Diplomacy Council of America and partner organization, the International Student House of Washington, D.C., hosted Citizen Diplomacy: The Role of the Individual in Foreign Affairs. This ‘in-person only’ event was held in the elegant Great Hall at the International Student House (ISH). It was my privilege to help orchestrate this occasion, working closely with Claire Arnett, who serves as Special Assistant at the House. Her engaging style, meticulous attention to detail, and flexibility were especially appreciated.

 Ambassador Michele Bond, ISH Board President, welcomed the 70 guests who attended. In addition to Claire’s energetic work promoting the event, another reason for the excellent turnout was that we invited several PDCA partner organizations, which define their members as citizen diplomats, to cosponsor the event. All were represented and acknowledged.

 These included: The audience appreciated the opportunity to view the new PBS documentary entitled Citizen Diplomacy that premiered in Des Moines last November. Among other stories, the film documents the long-term relationship of Iowa farmer and corn seed salesman, Roswell Garst, with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. It also chronicles the enduring relationship of Chinese President Xi Jinping with his “Iowa friends” that began in 1985 with a homestay in Muscatine when Xi visited the United States for the first time as head of a corn processing delegation. It was reinforced during multiple visits in both directions, including Xi’s 2012 return trip. And, last year at APEC in San Francisco, he hosted a reception for his “Iowa friends,” including PDCA member Ambassador Kenneth Quinn who makes a cameo appearance in the film.
Following the film, Dr. Paul Lachelier, PDCA member and founder of Citizen Diplomacy International, shared the ground-breaking efforts of the global network of citizen diplomats, both practitioners and scholars, that he leads. PDCA Rising Professional member, Junlong Wang, whom I first met when I spoke to USC Professor Nick Cull’s class, is the founder of another network of citizen diplomats called the Bridge Cultural Exchange Academy (BCEA). He described the online and in-person events sponsored by BCEA that are designed to connect Chinese and U.S. students and dispel the notion that we must be adversaries. Some spirited discussion and thought-provoking questions followed. The event was so well-received that we have already scheduled a sequel September 24, 2024.
Interestingly, President Eisenhower, who knew war so intimately, was one of the biggest proponents of international exchanges. He hosted a White House Summit on Citizen Diplomacy September 11, 1956. He described the goal of the Summit:
“Clearly, there will never be enough diplomats and information officers at work to get the job done without help from the rest of us. Indeed, if our American ideology is eventually to win out in the great struggle being waged between the two opposing ways of life, it must have the active support of thousands of independent private groups and institutions and of millions of individual Americans acting through person-to-person communication in foreign lands. It is my intention to call upon U.S. citizens to help their Government in this task.”
 All photos courtesy of Bruce Guthrie.