The series 55 Voices for Democracy is inspired by the 55 BBC radio addresses Thomas Mann delivered from his home in California to thousands of listeners in Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, and the occupied Netherlands and Czechoslovakia between October 1940 and November 1945. In his monthly addresses, Mann spoke out strongly against fascism, becoming the most significant German defender of democracy in exile. Building on that legacy, the series brings together internationally-esteemed intellectuals, scientists, and artists to present ideas for the renewal of democracy in our own troubled times. Participants include political scientists Francis Fukuyama and Helmut Anheier, gender studies scholar Karen Tongson, philosopher Rainer Forst, sociologists Ananya Roy and Jutta Allmendinger, the German studies scholar Jan Philipp Reemtsma, historian Timothy Snyder, and many more.

The series is presented by the Thomas Mann House in cooperation with Deutschlandfunk, the Los Angeles Review of Books and Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Talks:

On the occasion of Juneteenth, Walter Katz gives a powerful account of the shared history of segregation, poverty and policing. Katz, who has an extensive background in law enforcement accountability and oversight, argues that “the murder of George Floyd in 2020 was the brutal exercise of the forceful continuance of segregation.” To decrease the existing substantial disparities, it will require “patience, dedication, and the willingness of the government and the police to hear uncomfortable truths."
 
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With our lives increasingly permeated and influenced by digital technologies, biased algorithms and Artificial Intelligence developed and owned mostly by unregulated tech companies, the art journalist and 2021 Thomas Mann Fellow Magdalena Kröner considers private involvement particularly important. In her address for 55 Voices, she argues that contemporary artists “are uniquely equipped to provide surprising answers and radical food for thought” on modes of self-determined handling of digital technologies: “They synthesize, visualize and transgress those things that we find difficult to imagine.” Magdalena Kröner writes for publications such as Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Kunstforum International, Monopol and Die Zeit.
 
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In his statement, Mohamed Amjahid calls for emancipatory voices to be heard more in transatlantic networks. He opposes derailed liberalism and emphasizes the need to show backbone and stand in solidarity with vulnerable minorities. This effort, he says, is necessary for inclusive democracies to survive. Mohamed Amjahid is a political journalist, book author and moderator. He was an editor at ZEITmagazin and was awarded among others the Alexander Rhomberg Prize and the Henri Nannen Prize. He received wide attention for his bestsellers Among Whites and Whitewash. Amjahid is a 2022 Fellow at the Thomas Mann House in Los Angeles.
 
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"Almost nowhere else in Europe women earn so much less than men," says investigative journalist and Thomas Mann Fellow Birte Meier about the gender pay gap in Germany. But what can Germany learn from the U.S., specifically California, when it comes to laws that regulate equal pay? Birte Meier holds a master's degree in North American Studies, Modern History and Journalism. Since 2007, she has been a ZDF editor, producing investigative stories on politics and business - primarily on digitalization, globalization and the transformation of the market economy and democracy.
 
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Crises have always led to unlikely alliances. Now is again the time to forge alliances against right-wing populism and the climate catastrophe, demands political scientist and publicist Claus Leggewie. Leggewie holds the Ludwig Börne Professorship at the University of Giessen and is head of the local "Panel on Planetary Thinking." In 2021, he was an Honorary Fellow at the Thomas Mann House in Los Angeles. His most recent publications include No Representation Without Consultation (2021) and Climate Change and Cultural Transition in Europe (2018).
 
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As biodiversity seems to diminish, so does our social imagination, the New York-based writer Alexandra Kleeman claims: "As we habituate to gradual loss, it becomes normalized, and then invisible" Kleeman's contribution is a call for bold thinking and new visions of the future. Alexandra Kleeman is the author of the novels Something New Under the Sun (2021) and You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine (2016), which was named an Editor's Choice by The New York Times. Her works of fiction have been published in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Zoetrope, Conjunctions and Guernica, among others. She lives in Staten Island and teaches at The New School.

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Political scientist Michael Zürn warns that whoever questions the idea of truth is attacking liberal democracy itself. Zürn, director of the research unit on Transnational Conflicts and International Institutions at WZB (Social Science Research Center Berlin) and 2021 Thomas Mann Fellow reminds us: "Public debate does not even make sense without the regulative premise that some beliefs can be regarded as being closer to the truth than others.“

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Why Thomas Mann was not a born as democrat, but one who allowed himself to be persuaded: Christoph Möllers, legal scholar and Thomas Mann Fellow 2021, takes a closer look at Thomas Mann’s motivations to become a strong supporter of democracy and what we can learn from his political transformation today. How did Mann use his own political development to convince others of democracy? "Democracy depends precisely on those who doubt it and need to be convinced," Möllers concludes.

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In his contribution, Irish writer and literary scholar Colm Tóibín notes: "Democracy is a great stabilizer. But sometimes a space opens by something that lives in the imagination, a sudden openness to change." Tóibín talks about political change and same-sex marriage equality in Ireland. He urges us to be vigilant — for miraculous transformations as well as for the darkest outcomes in democracies. Colm Tóibín is the author of, among others, “The Magician”, a novel based on the life of Thomas Mann, to be published in September 2021 by Simon & Schuster.

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"Can we build a civilization based on news and hypes?" asks media scholar Bernhard Poerksen after a conversation with former California Governor Jerry Brown. He points to the problem that we respond to threats like climate change, that require long-term thinking, in the mode of short-termism. In light of this malaise, he calls for a new "freedom to withdraw." Bernhard Poerksen is a professor of media studies at the University of Tübingen and a fellow at the Thomas Mann House Los Angeles. His book "Digital Fever: Taming the Big Business of Disinformation” is forthcoming from Palgrave Macmillan.

Melissa Chan ask: Why did so many people lose faith in democracy? And when did the term “journalism” become associated with “fake news?” Journalist Melissa Chan addresses the threats to democracies around the globe and the problem of “stolen words”: How could it happen that autocracies and populists hijacked and changed the meanings of a democratic vocabulary? In her address, Chan explores what we can do to stop these “aggressive attempts to rewrite the narrative“ of democratic values.

Jody David Armour, author and law professor, raises the question of effective political communication. Should Black Lives Matter activists soften their political messages to appeal to a majority of Americans? What oppositions did civil rights activists like Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King and Medgar Evers face and in what ways can they be an inspiration today? Jody David Armour is the Roy P. Crocker Professor of Law at the University of Southern California.

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Helmut Anheier, former president and professor of sociology at the Hertie School in Berlin and a faculty member of UCLA´s Luskin School of Public Affairs, argues for a stronger link between economic and social policy. He recalls the sociologist Ralf Dahrendorf and postulates that social cohesion, political participation and a prosperous economy can only be reconciled if widespread inequalities are reduced and social mobility is promoted.

Karen Tongson, cultural critic and Professor of English, Gender & Sexuality Studies at USC, talks about how an attacked democracy encourages us to look anew at the wholeness within it: “It is in our capacity to make manifest the chains of affiliation and resistance required to keep the remaining vestiges of this representative democracy intact until we dream something better into being.”

Rainer Forst, Professor of Political Theory and Philosophy at the Goethe University Frankfurt, states in Frankfurt's Paulskirche that the neglect of democracy is our own failure. His appeal: "Nobody will and can prevent it if we don't do it ourselves - with clear concepts and judgments and the courage to reason."

Sociologist Jutta Allmendiger, President of the WZB Berlin Social Science Center, claims in Frankfurt's Paulskirche: "To take responsibility for democracy also means to do everything to put women in a better position." "Let us care for our democracy," Allmendinger urges. This includes advocating for the participation of everyone in our society. For women, she states, this is still not sufficiently realized.

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Equal rights in the democratic process should be self-evident in liberal societies, claims American Studies scholar Heike Paul. She opposes the pseudo-feminism of the new political right. She is Chair of American Studies at the Friedrich–Alexander University Erlangen–Nuremberg.

In the struggle for democracy, a rhetoric of pathos is wrong, argues publicist Jan Philipp Reemtsma. "The only way we know of fighting inequality and discrimination or at least minimizing their occurrence and their consequences is to work within the framework of democracy." Reemtsma is Professor for Modern German Literature at the University of Hamburg.

Ananya Roy, Professor of Urban Planning at UCLA, warns: "The problem of the 21st century is still the problem of the color line." The sociologist calls for a "radical democracy," which should start from social movements and a revalorization of subaltern and subordinated knowledges.

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Timothy Snyder, Professor of History at Yale University, asks why democracy today has lost its future. He calls for a "politics of responsibility" to be regained and finds hope in social platforms and the revival of the welfare state.

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In the face of a global crisis of democracy, the political scientist Francis Fukuyama (Stanford University) emphasizes the current relevance of Thomas Mann's radio speeches. "It is important to realize that there is hope at the end of this process, that people do not want to live under tyrannical regimes. They do want to have the freedom to think, and write, and act."


Media partners for the series are Deutschlandfunk, Los Angeles Review of Books and Süddeutsche Zeitung.