Brussels Forum, GMF’s annual, signature conference, opened for the 15th time on Tuesday. It wasn’t the anniversary celebration we had planned. In fact, I can’t imagine a more sobering moment in which to be marking an anniversary. Not only are we unable to bring you, our community, together in person because of the coronavirus pandemic, but also the United States is being rocked by protests, unfolding just blocks from GMF headquarters, set off by the horrifying killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis. People across the world are expressing their shared pain in the streets, protesting against racism and police violence; a portrait of George Floyd has been painted on a remnant of the Berlin Wall. As Margaret Carlson put it in framing yesterday’s panel on this singular and sobering moment in American politics, we are facing two pandemics—“the pandemic of racism and the pandemic of the virus.” It is that first “pandemic” that moves me to write today.
For Americans, this “pandemic of racism” has deep and bitter roots. “This is a wound that the country has had for 400 years,” Washington Post Columnist Jonathan Capehart reminded us in that same panel. But this moment is different, Capehart argued, both because of the graphic nature of the video footage showing a careless disregard for George Floyd’s life by a police officer, and because President Trump is fanning the flames of division.
The importance of leadership during this crisis is the topic of GMF Senior Fellow Lora Berg’s blog post, in which she reflects on recent examples of compassionate leadership and cites actions by members of GMF’s own Transatlantic Inclusion Leaders Network. In addition, over the past five years, about 100 diverse alumni of our Leadership Programs have joined together to design and lead over 30 projects aimed at increasing inclusion in our societies on both sides of the Atlantic, including five empowerment programs to reach the youngest generation of minority leaders and offer a pipeline to higher levels of service. That principle of inclusivity is intrinsic to GMF. GMF Executive Vice President Derek Chollet and I shared a message with our colleagues yesterday affirming our deep commitment to cultivating the heterogeneity that makes us strong.
GMF is a living tribute to the Marshall Plan, which is just one example of how American leadership inspired the world with a program of assistance grounded in values of democracy, protection of human rights, rule of law, and freedom of speech. In Brussels Forum’s opening conversation on Tuesday, GMF Board Member and Washington Post Columnist David Ignatius spoke of how, at the end of the Second World War, an America, “a decisive great power with big ideas and a generous heart,” worked with its European allies “in a time of profound uncertainty, beyond what we’re experiencing now” and “set about to rebuild an uncertain world.” The United States is struggling today, but David posited that we are “present at the re-creation” and asked how we will re-create our world together, charging all of us to answer that question.
Honest, and even difficult, conversations are essential at this moment. If we are to re-create, if we are to rebuild, we will be stronger for doing so together. We hope you will continue to join us for this dialogue at Brussels Forum, including our discussion with South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and as we challenge ourselves and each other to shape both a better and a shared future.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.