Cooperation in Washington, DC — A legacy lasting 60 years
When people think of Washington, DC, the first word that comes to mind is not going to be “cooperation.” In just over a week, the masses of people who head out for the conventions and battle it out will only serve to further drive our reputation as a broken town. But this week there is something that will actually bring the district together — a citizen-led diplomatic movement shaped by Sister Cities International that was created 60 years ago by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
With more than a fifth of its population foreign-born and a variety of residents and diplomats representative of nearly every country around the globe, DC has long been a cosmopolitan city that draws strength from its diversity and from the contributions of people from around the world. The people that reside here, represent cities from all over the country, and the world, many of the places these people yield from hold sister city partnerships with other cities globally that have endured for decades, like Dublin, Ireland and San Jose, California which just celebrated 30 years and Philadelphia, PA and Tel Aviv, Israel which will celebrate 50 years this July.
In some regional pockets across the U.S., we have seen support for the misguided suggestion that in order to achieve peace and prosperity we must close our borders to visitors. We know the fallacy of this notion, and we hope that other municipal officials across the country will take the lead in supporting critical programs like sister cities, which insist on building bridges and not walls.
The concept of citizen diplomacy — that citizens have the right, if not the responsibility, to help shape foreign relations — is a helpful reminder that diplomacy does not begin and end at the federal level. People-to-people exchange has always been an essential first step to building mutual understanding, respect and collaboration between nations and their citizens. As we’ve seen time and again in the years since Sister Cities International was founded, governments (and even countries) come and go, but cities and their people remain. This goes for Washington, DC as well as the other 570 member cities that hold over 2300 partnerships with cities in over 150 countries around the globe.
Founded in 1956 by President Eisenhower, the sister cities movement recognizes that everyday citizens have not just the right but the responsibility to represent their communities in international affairs. It also promotes peace through mutual respect, cooperation and understanding — one individual, one community at a time.
These relationships are critical to building long-term economic partnerships, as well. The sister city relationships are by nature long-term, open-ended partnerships that cultivate connections across a number of sectors. It’s a long-term engagement that builds trust, familiarity and deep networks — which any businessperson knows is critical to success, particularly in an international context.
This year, Sister Cities International will celebrate its 60th anniversary. To mark this special moment, Washington, DC, along with nearly 40 other cities across the country have officially issued Mayoral proclamations to go with a bi-partisan congressional resolution that was introduced by Congressman DeSantis and Congressman Castro which has created the first ever Sister Cities International Day, July 15, 2016.
This momentous day in partnership with Washington, DC, will convene volunteers, diplomats, elected officials and other civic leaders from the U.S. and abroad to both learn from one another and showcase the many important benefits of something we need a little more of in every corner of the world: international cooperation. So while the general discourse over the next few weeks may paint Washington, DC as being as divided as ever, at least this week, the city will be united around peace.