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December 24, 2007

MacNeil/Lehrer “Dialogues in Democracy” delegates and television audience post blogs and video on CW's new web site

More than 230 years after George Mason presented to the Virginia Convention in Williamsburg the hand-written document that would become the basis for the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Bill of Rights, Colonial Williamsburg and MacNeil/Lehrer Productions have initiated a worldwide dialogue about the roles, rights and responsibilities of citizens in a democracy.

“By the People: Citizenship in the 21st Century” – scheduled for broadcast Jan. 4 at 10 p.m. Eastern time on PBS stations – is the concluding element of nationwide “Dialogues in Democracy” conducted by MacNeil/Lehrer Productions in partnership with Colonial Williamsburg. The timing of the broadcast – one day after the Iowa caucuses and before the presidential primaries get underway across the country – reminds American citizens of their vital role in the process of self-government.

The project seeks to examine how the democratic values of the founding generation connect with the nation we have become in the 21st century and to answer the question: Can a nation that will grow to 400 million people over the next 35 years achieve a shared commitment to citizen responsibilities and rights?

In October, Dialogues in Democracy 2007 held town meeting events in 11 cities, most with 100 randomly selected citizen delegates. These community engagements focused on issues that resonated within specific localities – issues that included health care, education, immigration, privacy and the role of government. Questions were framed to form a clear connection between the concerns of the founders and the present and future challenges facing communities and our nation. Community outreach and related civic discourse surrounded each community’s deliberations. These events also involved local elected officials and opinion leaders.

In November, approximately 45 citizens recruited from across the nation attended the final convocation in Colonial Williamsburg’s House of Burgesses in the restored Capitol where the principals of liberty and the rights of citizens were debated by earlier generations of Americans. Some of the 21st-century citizens who came to Williamsburg were nationally recognized leaders; collectively they brought diverse educational, demographic, geographic and religious perspectives to the dialogue. In a place where America’s independence and democratic foundations were debated and forged, these individuals sought to engage their fellow citizens in the ownership of our shared civic responsibilities.

During the January broadcast, the television audience will be urged to visit Colonial Williamsburg’s new Web site, Using global technology to initiate a worldwide dialogue about the roles, rights and responsibilities of citizens in a democracy, provokes discussion about today’s issues of self-government through participation in blogs, discussion forums and with You Tube-type user-generated content.

Many citizen delegates who participated in “Dialogues in Democracy” have posted blogs and comments on The audience will be encouraged to participate by posting additional blogs or videos on the site.

The site also provides a glossary, a citizenship timeline and historical documents that have contributed to the evolution of human rights and citizenship. Many of the documents are offered in multiple languages, such as the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Virginia Declaration of Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“ is a perfect fit with Colonial Williamsburg’s education for citizenship initiatives and our mission ‘that the future may learn from the past,’ ” said Richard McCluney, the Royce R. and Kathryn M. Baker vice president for productions, publications and learning ventures for Colonial Williamsburg. “The site allows American citizens of all ages to participate in citizen dialogues. With our Electronic Field Trips, podcasts, Teacher Institute, Web sites and innovative curricular materials for primary and secondary schools, we hope to help new generations of citizens sustain the American experiment in self-government.”

A shared concern for citizenship education and a visionary commitment to the power of today’s interactive media to make a difference inspired the generous support of Frank Batten Sr. of Norfolk, Va., former chairman and CEO of Landmark Communications, for this education for citizenship initiative. Landmark Communications created the Weather Channel and publishes the Virginian-Pilot newspaper and nearly 100 other paid and free newspapers and special interest publications; operates cable television stations in Knoxville and Las Vegas and operates emerging businesses in database marketing, career education and tradeshows.

The site was introduced during the World Forum on the Future of Democracy, hosted by Colonial Williamsburg and the College of William & Mary, the culminating event of America’s 400th Anniversary. Audio and video of the proceedings are available on the site.

Visit for more information and to join the dialogue and learn what is important to current and future citizens.

Established in 1926, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is the not-for-profit educational institution that preserves and operates the restored 18th-century Revolutionary capital of Virginia as a town-sized living history museum, telling the inspirational stories of our nation’s founding men and women. Within the restored and reconstructed buildings, historic interpreters, attired as colonial men and women from slaves to shopkeepers to soldiers, relate stories of colonial Virginia society and culture – stories of our journey to become Americans – while historic trades people research, demonstrate and preserve the 18th-century world of work and industry. As Colonial Williamsburg interprets life in the time of the American Revolution for its guests, it also invites them to interact with history. Williamsburg is located in Virginia’s Tidewater region, 20 minutes from Newport News, within an hour’s drive of Richmond and Norfolk, and 150 miles south of Washington, D.C., off Interstate 64. For more information about Colonial Williamsburg, call 1-800-HISTORY or visit Colonial Williamsburg’s Web site at

Media Contact:
Barbara Brown
(757) 220-7280