Strong Cities Network’s Transatlantic Mayoral Dialogue on Preventing Hate, Extremism and Polarization and Safeguarding Democracy

Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Shefali Razdan Duggal [as prepared]
The Hague – Peace Palace, November 15, 2022

Good morning, everyone!  My name is Shefali Razdan Duggal, the newly arrived United States Ambassador to the Kingdom of the Netherlands. It is a genuine privilege to be with you all here today in the Peace Palace to attend the “Strong Cities Network’s Transatlantic Mayoral Dialogue on Preventing Hate, Extremism and Polarization, and Safeguarding Democracy.”  Thank you, Mayor van Zanen, for your inspiring remarks and the active role you have taken to support this conference and the Strong Cities Network.  It is so appropriate that this conference focusing on discussing some of the challenges facing democracies today is hosted in the Hague, the city of Peace and Justice.

Since Day One, the Biden-Harris Administration has illustrated its commitment to place democracy and human rights at the heart of U.S. foreign policy.  To meet unprecedented, current worldwide challenges, it is essential to actively renew Democracy and promote human rights around the world. President Joe Biden has said, “Democracy doesn’t happen by accident.  We need to defend it, fight for it, strengthen it, and renew it.” 

To further this effort, President Biden convened a broad and diverse group of governmental world leaders, civil society, and the private sector at a virtual “Summit for Democracy” in December 2021.  The Summit focused on three themes:  First, strengthening democracy and countering authoritarianism; Second, fighting corruption and third, promoting respect for human rights. It was a wonderful opportunity for the United States to listen, learn, and engage with a diverse group whose support and commitment to these ideals is critical for global democratic renewal.  Much like the Strong Cities Conference, the “Summit for Democracy” provided a platform for leaders to commit to strengthening their democratic institutions through cooperation. 

The December 2021 Summit for Democracy initiated a year of action by participants to make democracies more responsive and resilient, and to build a broader community of partners committed to global democratic renewal.  Our gathering today is part of that very process.  President Biden’s “Summit for Democracy” also emphasized one of democracy’s unique strengths: the ability to acknowledge its imperfections and confront them openly and transparently, so that we may, as the Constitution puts it, “form a more perfect union.”  While working together with our international partners, we can certainly demonstrate that democracies around the world can and will meet the challenges of our time and deliver for their people. This being done specifically during a time when authoritarian powers feel emboldened to pursue their own agendas, at the expense of human rights.   

The priority of the Biden-Harris Administration is to defend and promote our shared democratic values both at home and abroad.  I am grateful to stand before you today and declare unequivocal U.S. support for strengthening accountable governance, expanding economic opportunities, protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms when confronted by extremism and polarization.  

While these are core objectives for the President’s “Summit for Democracy,” these are challenges all of you face daily in your cities and communities.  In an increasingly interconnected environment, cities across the United States, Canada, and Europe are on the frontlines of many of our most urgent global issues.  And as mayors, city officials, and law enforcement leaders, you are responding to the most pressing needs of your citizens. You are coming up with creative solutions to problems that we are all facing. By being here today, you are responding to President Biden’s call for action.  You are positively able to engage with audiences due to the strong and direct connection you hold to the people you represent.   

To address the origin causes of radicalization in our cities, confront the crises of disinformation and misinformation, and have preventative measures for violence, democracies must commit to addressing multiple and overlapping social identities, including groups historically excluded from the decision-making process.  We will all exponentially benefit when more voices are heard and engaged through the democratic process.  The State Department recognizes that worldwide engagement from marginalized ethnicities and socioeconomically challenged populations and communities of color will create more empathetic foreign policy. As Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated, “Embedding equity into our foreign affairs work… raises the visibility of racial and other inequities globally, and that, in turn, generates better informed foreign policies that decrease barriers to equity worldwide.”  

I grew up in Cincinnati OH, raised by a single mom who worked 2 minimum wage jobs to support us. Due to various, often unkind, and unfair reasons, I did not often feel heard or seen. As U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of the Netherlands, there is an inner fire within my heart to not, whenever possible, have anyone feel the way I did as a child. That is the reason why, as U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of the Netherlands, it is my priority to engage directly with underserved communities, go to places and visit people who may not have ever expected to meet a U.S Ambassador, to see and genuinely engage with people and let them know: I see you, I hear you, I feel you, I have been you.  

We recognize that to deliver benefits to local communities, both in the United States and abroad, U.S. foreign policy must integrate the ideas of cities and communities into planning.  To achieve this, Secretary Antony Blinken appointed Ambassador Nina Hachigian in October of this year to serve as the “Special Representative for Subnational Diplomacy.”  Ambassador Hachigian will lead the U.S. State Department’s efforts to engage local partners, foster connections among cities in the United States and abroad, and develop solutions to key issues facing local actors.  She also will focus on continuing the development of American subnational diplomacy policy domestically and abroad.    

We face many challenges today, and polarization and extremism do, unfortunately, still exist.  Mahatma Gandhi gently reminded us of humanity’s moral compass, when he stated, ““When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it–always.” I believe just as the allies came together to preserve democracy during World War II, we will prevail over these challenges to democracy by working together and standing up for our shared values. 

As we gather today in the Hague, the city of Peace and Justice, I am optimistic that you will be inspired to work together in partnership to exchange ideas, find solutions, and continue the critical work of strengthening our democratic systems.  

This is an incredibly impressive group of leaders, and the United States looks to you for innovative and novel ideas which tackle global challenges.  I commend all of you for your important work to safeguard democracy in your cities. Thank you for coming to The Hague to share your experiences and learn from each other.