Watson Institute gears up for presidential election with screenings, discussions

Events hosted by the institute involve virtual visits from expert scholars, documentary filmmakers and influential policymakers such as Stacey Abrams, Michael Dukakis and Heidi Heitkamp.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — As the 2020 presidential election nears, Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs is gearing up for the big day with debate debriefs, film screenings and discussions on democracy and voting in the coming weeks.

As part of its mission to promote a just and peaceful world through research, teaching and public engagement, the Watson Institute will host dozens of public events and student gatherings that call on students, expert scholars and resident practitioners to provide new insights on, and offer solutions to, the most pressing current issues in the United States.

The institute’s many fall offerings aim to arm both Brown students and the public with the information they need to make informed decisions at the polls.

“With the country facing a deadly pandemic, a major reckoning with the racism of its past and present, and an increase in life-threatening wildfires and hurricanes caused by climate change, this is perhaps one of the most consequential elections any of us has faced,” said Ed Steinfeld, director of the Watson Institute. “It is therefore more imperative than ever that we understand the impact we can make when we fill out our ballots. This election season, as ever, we at Watson are dedicated to engaging the Brown and Rhode Island communities in lively, non-partisan discussions about the most urgent problems of our time.”

The institute’s John F. Kennedy Jr. Initiative for Documentary Film and Social Progress kicks off on Sept. 22 and 23 with two screenings of “All In: The Fight For Democracy,” which explores historical and current patterns of voter suppression in the U.S. Following the Sept. 23 screening, the institute will host a discussion between director and Brown Class of 1992 graduate Liz Garbus and Stacey Abrams, former Georgia House of Representatives minority leader and Georgia gubernatorial candidate. The film series continues on Friday, Oct. 9, with a screening and discussion of “Boys State,” which follows 1,000 Texas high school seniors as they build a mock state government.

On Friday, Sept. 25, Watson Institute faculty member Rob Blair will lead a discussion with six other scholars on the most important political threats to voting rights and equal representation in American politics today. Blair will also spend the entire fall semester exploring the issue in depth with students in the course Democratic Erosion, which he developed in 2017 alongside experts at 20 universities and colleges across the country. 

The institute’s Taubman Center for American Politics and Policy is in the midst of an event series focused on money, media and messaging in the presidential campaigns. Upcoming events include a Sept. 30 talk by U.S. Sen. Angus King on congressional gridlock;  a discussion with New York Times political reporter Ken Vogel, who will explore the pandemic’s effect on campaign fundraising; a talk by former Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, who will share his views on this unique political moment; and a talk on how to heal divides between progressive groups by NBC political analyst Zerlina Maxwell.

The Taubman Center will also host three discussions exploring President Donald Trump’s legacy on Oct. 1, Oct. 21 and Nov. 18.

On election night, the Watson Institute will host a public watch party from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. The event will kick off with a panel of faculty members previewing expectations for the night’s results and flagging bellwethers to watch. As returns are reported, expert commentators at Brown will provide historical context and big-picture analysis.

Students at Brown will have even more chances to dive into the election’s hot topics leading up to November. The Watson Institute has organized student watch parties and discussions following each of the presidential debates and on Election Day, many of which will be facilitated by Professor of Political Science Wendy Schiller and Visiting Professor of the Practice Richard Arenberg.

Some students will take part in a five-week study group led by former U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, where they will discuss long-term American structural issues and discuss ways to meet those challenges, while others will meet throughout October to unpack the legacy of slavery in the U.S. with writer ZZ Packer. Others may choose to sign up for one-on-one Zoom office hours with Heitkamp or former World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, both of whom are senior fellows at the Watson Institute.

Throughout election season, the institute will share insights from events, faculty members’ news commentary and more on social media using the hashtag #WatsonElection2020.