Jenna Spinelle

Democracy Works Podcast Host

Jenna Spinelle is the Communications Specialist for the McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Penn State. She is responsible for shaping all of the institute's external communication, including website content, social media, multimedia, and media outreach.

She holds a B.A. in journalism from Penn State and is an instructor in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications.

Prior to joining the McCourtney Institute, Spinelle worked in Penn State's Undergraduate Admissions Office and College of Information Sciences and Technology.  

Derek W. Black
Photo Provided

The Trump administration infamously referred to public schools as "failing government schools," illustrating how education has been caught up in the broader attack on the roots of American democracy. While the language is new, Derek W. Black argues the sentiment very much is not.

Larry Krasner
Larry Krasner

On this Take Note, we’re going to hear an interview with Philadelphia district attorney Larry Krasner.

 

Before he was elected to be Philadelphia’s chief prosecutor in 2017, Krasner was a criminal defense attorney specializing in civil rights. He was elected on the promise he’d reform the criminal justice system from within and reduce incarceration.

 

Larry Krasner
Philadelphia District Attorney's Office

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner joins us to discuss the promise and peril of institutional reform and how he built a coalition of voters who are traditionally overlooked in politics. He spent his career as a civil rights attorney, not a as a prosecutor like his predecessors. He's part of a growing movement of progressive district attorneys who focus on ending mass incarceration, not solely on enforcing law and order. 

Chris Fitzsimon
States Newsroom

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, legislators in 43 states have introduced more than 250 bills aimed at restricting access to voting in person, by mail, or both. Chris Fizsimon, director and publisher of States Newsroom, returns to the show to give us a birds-eye view of what's happening on the ground in state legislatures. 

Danielle Allen
Lyceum Agency

Danielle Allen is a leader of two large-scale efforts to make democracy truly inclusive and reimagine the way we teach new generations of democratic citizens. She joins us this week to discuss both initiatives and how to build coalitions for effective change

Kidada Williams
Kidada Williams

Today we’re going to hear the untold stories of Black Americans during the Reconstruction era that followed the Civil War.

The podcast “Seizing Freedom” draws from historical records of formerly enslaved people who fought for the everyday freedoms many of us now take for granted.

Our guest is the host and producer of the podcast, Kidada Williams. Williams is an associate professor of history at Wayne State University.

Ethan Porter
George Washington University

If you're listening to this podcast, you probably don't fit Ethan Porter's definition of a consumer citizen, but you probably know someone who does — someone who tunes out of politics and would rather focus on just about anything else. Porter argues that appealing to consumer behavior might be on way to spark civic engagement among this group. 

James Piazza
Penn State Department of Political Science

The FBI recently reported that it's opened 2,000 domestic terrorism investigations since 2017. How the United States responds to these threats touches on some of democracy's most basic tensions. We explore those tensions this week and discuss where things might go from here.

Anne Applebaum
Photo Provided

Journalist, autho, and historian Anne Applebaum says that democracy is not like running water — something that we know will always be there when we turn on the tap. Her latest book "Twilight of Democracy," highlights the ways in which countries around the world are coming to terms with this fact and provides suggestions for how we can do our part to keep the water flowing.  

Sinan Aral
MIT

Sinan Aral has spent two decades studying how social media impacts our lives, from how we think about politics to how we find a romantic partner. He argues that we're now at the crossroads of a decade of techno-utopianism followed by a decade of techno-dystopianism. How to reconcile the promise and peril of social media is one of the biggest questions facing democracy today.

Kidada Williams
Virginia Public Media

We commemorate Black History Month and celebrate a new podcast from Virginia Public Media that talks about Reconstruction from the perspective of African Americans who fought for freedom and the right to be citizens of American democracy.

Michael Kimmage
German Marshall Fund

Alexei Navalny has been a figure in Russian opposition for years, but garnered international attention recently though social media and what's widely believed to be an assassination attempt by the Russian government in the fall. This week, we unpack the complicated nature of Russian democracy and how the U.S. and other countries should respond — or not —  to what's happening there now.

Joshua Dyck and Ted Lascher
Photos provided

From gerrymandering to ranked-choice voting to expanding voting rights, the ballot initiative has been essential to expanding and reforming democracy in recent years. However, the initiative has also been used to constrain minority rights and push the public to act on polarizing issues like the death penalty and immigration.

David Daley
Photo provided

Despite ongoing threats of violence, the wheels of democracy continue to turn, and in 2021, that means redistricting. States will draw new electoral maps this year using data from the 2020 Census. 

Our guest this week has spent the past decade covering attempts by politicians to draw those maps to their advantage in a practice known as gerrymandering. He's also covered the groups of citizens across the country who pushed back against them to win some major reforms that will make the process look different now than it did in 2010.

This Take Note is from the Democracy Works podcast.

We’ll hear about Gerrymandering and the people fighting to take the politics out of drawing districts. Redistricting, which happens every 10 years, is set to happen this year. The guest is David Daley, who just published his second book about Gerrymandering, titled “Unrigged: How Americans Are Battling Back to Save Democracy.” 

TRANSCRIPT

Chris Beem: From the McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Penn State University, I'm Chris Beem.

Candis Smith: I'm Candis Watts Smith.

This episode was recorded on Friday, January 8, 2021.

Democracy Works hosts Michael Berkman, Chris Beem, and Candis Watts Smith reflect on the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and what it says about the condition of American democracy.

They also discuss whether it's possible to learn from this moment and what guideposts they'll be looking for to determine whether all the talk about protecting and restoring democracy we've heard since the attack will translate into action.   

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this episode are soley those of the Democracy Works hosts.

This episode was recorded on December 15, 2020, the day after the Electoral College voted to confirm Joe Biden as the next United States President. However, some Republicans refuse to accept the result and vow to continue fighting the result until Inauguration Day. Michael Berkman, Chris Beem, and Candis Watts Smith discuss what these challenges mean for the long-term health and legitimacy of American elections and American democracy.

At a time when the United States seems more polarized than ever, marijuana legalization might be one of the few issues that can receive bipartisan support, passing in red and blue states alike through direct democracy initiatives. Our guests this week explain what's happening and where things might go moving forward.

John Hibbing
University of Nebraska

Many, many articles, books, documentaries — and even podcasts — have been produced over the past four years to try and explain who Donald Trump's base is and what motivates people to vote for and otherwise support him. Our guest this week offers answers to these questions that are grounded in social science and political psychology.

Wynton Marsalis
Wynton Marsalis

What does jazz music have to do with democracy? We’ll find that out from this week’s guest, jazz great Wynton Marsalis. He’ll explore power, struggle, finding common ground and how those factor into his new album, The Ever Fonky Lowdown.

Geraldo Cadava
Northwestern University

he 2020 election left many pundits and pollsters scratching their heads about the increased support for Donald Trump among Latino voters. While these conversations seem new every election cycle, our guest this week argues they are part of a much larger story that goes all the way back to the post-WWII era.

Will Friedman
Public Agenda

Despite increasing partisan polarization, voters in the 2020 election agreed on ballot initiatives on a $15 minimum wage in Florida and marijuana legalization in several states. Our guest this week would say this is an example of the hidden common ground that exists among everyday citizens but is obscured by political parties and media pundits.

Robert Lieberman
Johns Hopkins University

We hear a lot these days about how democracy is under attack, but what does that really mean? Robert Lieberman is the perfect guest to help us unpack that question and discuss what we can do about it.

Lieberman is co-author with Suzanne Mettler of the book "Four Threats: The Recurring Crises of American Democracy." He is the Krieger-Eisenhower Professor of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University.

Stephen Voss, NPR

Hansi Lo Wang is a national correspondent for NPR and an award-winning journalist. He has been reporting on the 2020 census for NPR since 2017. He discussed the issues surrounding the 2020 census, and, now that counting is over, the next steps in the process.

This interview is from the Democracy Works podcast, a collaboration between WPSU and the McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Penn State. The Institute’s Jenna Spinelle interviewed Hansi Lo Wang.

  

TRANSCRIPT:

Wynton Marsalis
Jazz at Lincoln Center

Democracy takes center stage on Wynton Marsalis's latest album, The Ever Fonky Lowdown and his forthcoming work, the Democracy Suite. However, he's been thinking about the connection between jazz and democracy for his entire career. We are thrilled that he took a few minutes to talk with us about it this week. Listen to this episode while you wait in line to vote or for something to take your mind off the election while you're waiting for the results to come in.

Jennifer Lawless
Photo provided

More than 2,000 local newspapers have closed over the past 20 years, leaving some parts of the country in what's known as a "news desert." This week, we examine what impact that's had on civic engagement and democratic participation — and look at ways people are trying to make local news great again.

Rachel Shelden
Penn State

The Supreme Court has always been political, despite what recent history may lead us to believe. However, things may feel different now because the Court is more powerful now. Historian Rachel Shelden takes on a trip back to the Civil War era and we discuss the lessons from that era the might apply today.  

Lawrence Douglas
Amherst College

COVID-19, partisan gridlock and Donald Trump have joined forces to create the potential for in this year's election. This week, the author of "Will He Go? Trump and the Looming Electoral Meltdown in 2020" joins us to explain why and what we might be able to do about it.

Candis Watts Smith
Image Provided

In this crossover episode with WPSU's Take Note, Anne Danahy interviews Michael Berkman and Candis Watts Smith about several factors impacting the 2020 election — including polls, the death of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and even the prevalence of yard signs this fall.

This interview was recorded on Tuesday, September 30, 2020, before the first presidential debate and President Trump's diagnosis with COVID-19.    

On-cho Ng
Penn State

In some ways, the fight for democracy in Hong Kong is unique to the region and its relationship with China. However, the protests also feel familiar to anyone who's been watching the Black Lives Matter protests in the U.S. or what's happening in countries like Hungary and Brazil.  

This week, we examine what's driving Hong Kongers into the streets, the generational divides that are emerging over issues like universal suffrage and income inequality, and what Hong Kong's relationship with China might look like moving forward.

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