We no longer live in a society where global policies stop at the water’s edge of the United States. Solving global supply chains issues, tackling the climate crisis, human rights — all require global solutions and the U.S. working alongside our partners and allies. The American people should be fully briefed on what we are doing and why it matters to them.
Under Secretary Blinken’s leadership, the Department has reemphasized our priorities to ensure that not only international audiences understand U.S. foreign policies, but also the American people, the people we represent and work on behalf of. Across the country, Department of State representatives are engaging with high school students, University/College groups, city councils, World Affairs Councils, and more. We are meeting the American people where they are to better explain our policies, what the Department of State is doing on behalf of them, and most importantly, listen to their feedback.
With this newly reemphasized priority in mind, I had the honor of seeing it in action when I accompanied Department leadership at the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Typically, this week is filled with bilateral meetings with foreign counterparts and larger official speeches at venues with limited seats. However, this year, we took advantage of the opportunity of being in one of the country’s largest urban hubs to meet Americans who would normally not hear from us.
Elizabeth Trudeau, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Global Public Affairs, and I visited colleges, universities, and high schools across New York’s five boroughs and answered questions on current U.S. foreign policy. High school students, taking a break from Instagram Reels, had an exciting opportunity to ask a Department official questions on foreign policy issues and why the U.S. was doing what we’re doing around the world. Questions ranged from tackling the climate crisis, to why the U.S. is standing by the people of Ukraine during Putin’s unjust and unprovoked war. These conversations went beyond large policy issues, to also focus on how these students can get involved with the work of the Department and become more active global citizens.
In addition to students, Assistant Secretary Trudeau met with U.S. citizens who are also part of the Ukrainian diaspora while in New York. Normal Department engagements include meetings with Foreign Ministers, members of government, and civil society leaders. It’s not often that everyday citizens have an opportunity to speak with a U.S. official, especially on a policy so important as the unjust war in Ukraine. Making a connection with these Ukrainian-Americans allowed us to hear directly how this is impacting them, not just as U.S. citizens, but as friends and family members of people who are still in Ukraine fighting for their country’s territorial integrity.
For me, speaking to students at my own high school in Connecticut, was an enriching experience. We learned something too — the Department must do a better job at reaching out to the American people. We cannot successfully execute the mission of the Department without the American people’s full understanding of our policies. When we sit across the table, and we talk to foreign counterparts on things like climate change, the war in Ukraine, promoting democracy, or advancing the rights of all people, we must not forget the American people. Secretary Blinken, a leader who understands this at his core, will continue to push the Department’s staff to engage with the American people at all levels. To meet them where they are.
And U.S. diplomats have engaged Americans through various initiatives, such as the Department’s Hometown Diplomat program. For the past twenty years, over 2,300 Department employees have connected with their hometowns and alma matters to share their career experiences and how foreign policy not only affects events abroad, but also matters in the United States. If you are interested in having a representative from the Department come speak with your group, you can request one on state.gov, and you can follow the Department’s social media accounts, as we chronicle our work around the world and travel across the country. And if you want to learn more about how the work of the State Department has benefited your state, take a look at our interactive State by State map.
Reaching out to the American people — it is not just a good policy, but a responsibility.
About the Author: Nicholas DiNardo is the Chief of Staff for the Bureau of Global Public Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.