Past Event

Festival of Democracy

Join The Public Square at the Illinois Humanities Council and our co-sponsors and partners at this gathering of activists, scholars, artists, and all those who are interested to collectively imagine and grapple with issues of human rights, political power, and struggles for social justice. Speakers include Rashid Khalidi (Columbia University), Laura Flanders (Air America), Bill Fletcher (Center for Labor Renewal), Bernardine Dohrn (Northwestern University), and Salim Muwakkil (In These Times).

As the 2008 election season speeds ahead, The Public Square at the Illinois Humanities Council invites you to Festival of Democracy: Unleashing Radical Imagination, a gathering designed to launch a conversation about the kind of world we want to build together. Even as the presidential debates enter new territory, with candidates taking part in YouTube and online-only debates, we want to ask: how can we move beyond political platforms and media sound bites to engage in meaningful dialogue?

How can we create a more participatory democracy as we raise and wrestle with local and global issues? How do various issues intersect in ways that provide new insights and directions? How can we make connections between ongoing strugglesthat help us envision a more democratic and just world? We hope you will join us for this exciting day of discussion and imagination!


1:00-1:30 PM Welcome and Opening Performances

1:30-3:15PM Presidential Politics

What does the presidential playing field look like right now and what is the current political landscape? What issues are the candidates talking about, and just as importantly, what aren’t they saying? How do we define the historic moment that we’re in?


  • Laura Flanders, host of “RadioNation”–heard nationally on Air America Radio and non-commercial and public radio stations–and author of Blue Grit: True Democrats Take Back Politics from the Politicians.
  • Bill Fletcher, co-founder of the Center for Labor Renewal and member of the editorial board at The Black Commentator.
  • Barbara Ransby (moderator), Associate Professor of History and African-American Studies at the University of Illinois Chicago and co-chair of the Advisory Committee of The Public Square at the IHC.
  • Quentin Young, national coordinator for Physicians for a National Health Program and founder of the Health and Medicine Policy Research Group.

3:30-5:00 PM Rashid Khalidi in conversation with Salim Muwakkil

How does the occupation of Iraq and U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East affect us in Chicago, the U.S. and beyond? How is the war in Iraq and the crisis in the Middle East linked to injustices in the prison system, immigration reform, and global warming? How can we promote democracy in seemingly undemocratic and violent times?

  • Rashid Khalidi is the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies and Director of the Middle East Institute at Columbia University and author of Resurrecting Empire: Western Footprints and America’s Perilous Path in the Middle East.
  • Salim Muwakkil is a senior editor of In These Times, contributing op-ed columnist at the Chicago Tribune, and the host of “The Salim Muwakkil Show” on WVON Radio.

5:00-6:00 PM Dinner

6:30-8:00 PM Resistance and Liberation, Then and Now: An Intergenerational Conversation

“The more things change, the more they stay the same,” is one cliché we hear about politics and history. But is it true? War, racism, sexism, poverty and the spectacle of electoral politics persist. But how are 21st century activists tackling these issues differently than activists did in the 1960s and 70s? And what lessons can we learn from one another across the generational divide about social change, collective organizing, political strategy and movement building?Panelists:

  • Bernardine Dohrn, Clinical Associate Professor of Law and Director and founder of the Children and Family Justice Center at Northwestern University and member of the Advisory Committee of The Public Square at the IHC.
  • Mia Henry, director of the Chicago Freedom School.
  • Lisa Yun Lee (moderator), director of the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, co-founder of The Public Square at the IHC, and co-chair of The Public Square’s Advisory Committee.
  • Yunuen Rodriguez, co-president of the Women & Girls CAN Board of Directors and a member of Females United for Action.
  • Stan Willis, attorney in the City of Chicago specializing in criminal defense and federal rights cases, spokesman for the African American Committee to Free Mumia Abu Jamal and Aaron Patterson and the co-chair of the Chicago Conference of Black Lawyers.

8:00-9:00 PM A People’s Party

This celebration will feature performances that inspire and nourish the mind. We will celebrate the power of the creative process to transform lives, communities, and society. This celebration will feature performances from Idris Goodwin and Ugochi and will be emceed by Kevin Coval, Co-founder of The Chicago Teen Poetry Festival: Louder Than A Bomb.

Partners on this event are Experimental Station, Civic Knowledge Project, the Institute for the Study of Women and Gender in the Arts and Media, the Women’s and Gender Studies Program at DePaul University, the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, Columbia College Chicago Television Department, and the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture at the University of Chicago.

Free and open to the public. Dinner will be served.

Photo Caption

  • Top Left: Bernardine Dohrn (right), director and founder of the Children and Family Justice Center at Northwestern University School of Law, listens as Carleton College senior Leena Odeh speaks about her experiences as a young activist during the Public Square at the Illinois Humanities Council’s Festival of Democracy panel discussion “Resistance and Liberations, Then and Now: An Intergenerational Conversation.”
  • Bottom Left: After the formal program festival participants enjoyed the original work of spoken word artist know as “Ugochi.”
  • Bottom Center: Hyde Park resident Salim Muwakkil (left) senior editor of “In these Times” and professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University, Dr. Rashid Khalidi discuss the effects of the U.S. occupation of Iraq on American foreign policy around the world.
  • Bottom Right: Panel member Bill Fletcher Jr. (right) listens as Hyde Parker Quentin Young, current chairman and founder of the Health and Medicine Policy Research Group, speaks about single-payer health care during the discussion.
  • Top Right: Columbia University professor Rashid Khalidi speaks during the Public Square at the Illinois Humanities Council’s Festival of Democracy.