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A reflection on taking 6 Degrees global

Aisha Jarrah is the associate producer for 6 Degrees

“There is a vacuum of exemplary political leadership. We have lots of globally minded positive voices, but they’re not governmental. They’re living in the old version of the world.”

Of a number of not-quite-verbatim quotes I hastily noted during the last hour of our day in The Hague, this was the one that stuck with me. Two-and-a-half weeks earlier, back in Toronto, the 6 Degrees staff had been glued to the incoming results of the Dutch election. We breathed a sigh of relief when the final numbers came in: Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom only got 13.1% of the vote. “They don’t need 6 Degrees now,” we joked. In the Netherlands, exclusion had lost – for the time-being.

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But, of course, we all need 6 Degrees. More than ever, we need conversations about active citizenship, about economic inclusion, about refugees, about belonging, about how we can be the best advocates for the things we believe in. Never was I more sure about that than when I was standing in the Academy Hall of the Peace Palace hearing those words. “There is a vacuum of exemplary political leadership… They’re living in the old version of the world.”

6 Degrees Den Haag was our first attempt at bringing the initiative out into the new version of the world. Brexit, the election of Donald Trump, the rise of the far-right in Europe all colour our conversations on inclusion now. Only part of this had been our reality six months earlier, when we hosted the inaugural 6 Degrees Citizen Space in Toronto. Now, as the world continues to change around us, it’s important that we bring these conversations out of the comparative comfort of Toronto, of Canada, where we know we have an audience of active, like-minded peers with whom we can spend a day telling stories, debating, and digging into any and every aspect of citizenship and inclusion that crosses our minds. But of course, this audience exists everywhere – “globally minded positive voices” who want to foster dialogue, encourage leadership, and find the right language to convey the right thinking.

The one-day event in The Hague did just that. Issues of racism, inclusive education, and finding common ground between nationalists and global citizens drove the conversations of the day. Sunny Bergman spoke of the necessary challenge of facing historical racism in the Netherlands while Simon Kuper brought up the comparatively good social, economic, and cultural conditions in the country. Niigaan Sinclair (also a board member for the Institute for Canadian Citizenship) shared the power of adopting people into your circle, and the responsibility to each other that comes with it.

In the last hour, the myriad conversations from the day came to life in the Open Forum: sitting in the round, everyone who wanted to weighed in with insights, contentions, and thoughts on what was missing from the day. Participants spoke about the importance of global cultural responsibility, ending silence about exclusionary policies, the power of a society that recognizes positive identities, and indeed, the vacuum of exemplary political leadership.

That’s the real value of 6 Degrees: a conversation that enlightens, calls to action, and dissents, all at once. By challenging each other, we equip ourselves with both ideas and language to take the conversation further. We turn ourselves into more active, engaged citizens. Most of all, we become more honest. “We won’t win this argument in a room like this,” says my final note of the day, another not-quite-direct quote. “We need to talk to people we disagree with and dislike. It’ll be unpleasant and hard.”