Shawnee councilmember Stephanie Meyer is gearing up for her second political trip overseas to represent the United States as a democratic country.
This month, Meyer will lead a group of seven American political leaders on a weeklong trip through East Timor, a small Southeast Asian island country north of Australia. Meyer and her colleagues will talk with the country’s leaders about the initiation of their democratic process. The relatively new country gained independence from Indonesia in 2002.
“I’m excited to talk to them about how the last 17 years have been and what struggles they still have,” Meyer said. “Hopefully, we can provide areas where we can be helpful in our insight, being in a little bit older democracy than they are.”
The politicians’ trip, which is sponsored by the Timorese government, is part of an initiative by the American Council of Young Political Leaders, a nonprofit organization in part supported by the U.S. State Department that provides political leaders under 40 with the opportunity to share democratic ideas and best governmental practices with other countries. It’s also an opportunity for participants to practice diplomacy.
“I think our democratic process, our political process, right now has become so nasty and polarizing that it feels even better to be a part of an organization like ACYPL because they’re really working towards coming across party lines and talking about what makes our democracy so unique,” she said. “It breaks down all that party nonsense that we’ve been mired in here.”
On this trip to East Timor, Meyer and her colleagues will discuss with East Timor’s leaders the process of bringing democracy to the country, creating their constitution, establishing their parliament and also fostering youth engagement and citizen participation.
Meyer said the goal is to create diplomatic exchange by identifying best practices and ways that American and Timorese political leaders can learn from each other and help each other.
“For me, it feels like an incredible honor to have the opportunity to go over and represent the United States and talk about all of the things that we love about our democratic process — particularly as ours has involved and changed and what it looks like in the modern world right now,” she said, “and then also talk to them about ways maybe they can improve their system, ways that we can learn from them.”
Visiting Tunisia after Arab Spring
This is actually Meyer’s second trip with the American Council of Young Political Leaders. Her first trip was two weeks visiting Tunisia and Morocco in 2014.
“Tunisia was particularly cool; it was right after the Arab Spring,” she said, “so Tunisia was in the process, actually, of drafting their first democratic constitution and having their first democratic presidential election. It was just a really interesting time for them because they were just getting in the beginning stages of democracy.”
On that trip, Meyer met with presidential candidates and members of parliament and discussed some progressive items in their constitution, such as the number of women who should represent parliament. They also met with students and student journalists who were learning how to cover their government under a democratic structure.
After that trip to North Africa, Meyer became an alumna of the program and was then selected to lead the East Timor mission this month.
“I think it’s really personally fulfilling for me to be able to learn from what other folks are doing well as well and just have a good dialogue with folks who have different backgrounds,” she said. “So I’m excited about both sides of that conversation.”