Citizens Groups Making a Difference in U.S. Foreign Policy

What Can You Do?

American flag face paint on little boy.
Getty/Brian Bahr

November 20, 2006

Can private citizens have an impact on U.S. foreign policy? Of course. The ballot box is one direct route, but there are other ways to make your voice heard.

American relations with the rest of the world are largely debated, managed, and carried out within the president's administration with influence from Congress, other governing bodies, business interests, and outside experts. But public opinion has a strong role to play.

And that opinion is amplified when concerned citizens join together.

Finding the Right Fit

Finding the citizen group which best matches your sensibilities and needs requires a little research. Luckily, a few minutes on the Web can answer most of your questions quickly. Here are some groups which I think are worth exploring. Each has a slightly different take on both foreign policy and on how to best influence policymakers.

Americans for Informed Democracy
American for Informed Democracy (AID) is a college and university campus-based group focusing on global affairs and America's role in the world. If you are a college student, AID is a great, non-partisan way to join with fellow students in discussing some of the greatest issues of our day.

Amnesty International USA
Amnesty International is an influential, membership group which seeks to protect human rights around the world. WIth 1.8 million members in 150 countries, Amnesty has the power to quickly mobilize public action against human right violations anywhere.

The group's online "Action Center" allows member to quickly learn about and act on urgent issues.

Citizens for Global Solutions
Citizens for Global Solutions is a national, membership group devoted to the idea that global problems require global solutions. The problems facing the world are too big for any one nation to fix, therefore we have to work together.

The group has local chapters in 40 American communities and publishes an annual report card on Congress' role in bringing about global solutions.

Great Decisions
Great Decisions is not an actual organization, but it is a way to connect with your friends and neighbors on world affairs. Great Decisions is a program which brings people together for small group discussions organized around an annual briefing book. The book lays out a handful of issues important to U.S. foreign policy and then provides a series of questions to guide the conversation. Great Decisions is organized by the Foreign Policy Association.

National Council for International Visitors
The National Council for International Visitors (NCIV) is a network of community-based groups across the United States engaged in hosting students and leaders from all over the world. The group says, "Citizen diplomacy is the idea that the individual citizen has the right — even the responsibility — to help shape U.S. foreign relations 'one handshake at a time.'"

The People Speak
Like Great Decisions, The People Speak (TPS) is not so much an organization as it is an excuse to get together with other citizens for dialogue on global issues. Thousands of TPS gatherings are held every year centered around a single topic or set of topics.

The online resources make it very easy to set up your own TPS event.

The United Nations Association of the United States of America (UNA-USA) organizes programs for 175 UNA chapters all across the country on a variety of global issues. UNA-USA works for an effective United Nations and encourages U.S. leadership at the United Nations. The group is also well known for the Model UN efforts it runs for over thousands of students.

World Affairs Council of America
The World Affairs Councils of America (WACA) calls itself "the largest international affairs non-profit in the United States." WACA has close to half a million members in 86 different councils which together run over 2,500 events a year. WACA has a number of national "flagship" programs as well as a wide variety of work done by the local groups.