This September, Emily Wolfe (’20) traveled to Athens, Greece to attend the Athens Democracy Forum as a student representative for Hope College. Set up by the New York Times alongside the United Nations, the Athens Democracy Forum brings leaders from all over the world together to discuss the current state of democracy. Along with 20 other accepted students, Wolfe attended to discuss the youth perspectives at the forum. Wolfe and the accepted students represented 14 different countries.
“Our diverse perspectives and lived experiences allowed us to discuss what the current state of democracy is and how to make it better,” Wolfe said. The main discussion Wolfe and her peers related to was what constitutes a democracy as well as an illiberal democracy. According to Wolfe, an illiberal democracy is “one that looks like a democracy from the outside but is not on the inside.” An example of this type of democracy would be Puerto Rico, as they have elections and vote. However, they are not granted the right to vote in US elections.
Wolfe arrived in Athens four days prior to the forum, allowing her to discuss the topics with other participating students. In addition, the group had the opportunity to see the sights of Athens. They spent afternoons walking around and in the ancient ruins Athens holds as treasures. While not the purpose of their visit, Wolfe notes the incredible opportunity this travel provided. The student group also had the ability to do write-ups and work for the United Nations. The main topic included the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
At the forum, the goals were discussed in length. With the participants’ beliefs about the solution to these goals, Wolfe and other participants summarized and wrote formal papers involving this information. “I believe the most beneficial part was having so many diverse young people in one room all talking about the experiences they have within their democracies,” Wolfe said. “It taught me so much and showed me once again how difficult it is to attain a true democracy impossible.”