Saving Democracy:

Foreign Dissidents on
How Democracies Fall

With Masih Alinejad, Evan Mawarire,
Rayhan Asat and Ben Rhodes

Date: October 19th, 2021

Time: 6 pm EDT

Location: Online via Zoom

Speakers: Masih Alinejad, Evan Mawarire, Rayhan Asat and Ben Rhodes.

What: How does authoritarianism spread through society? What can we do to stop that spread? Join us for a discussion with Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinejad, Zimbabwean democracy activist Pastor Evan Mawarire, and Uyghur human rights lawyer Rayhan Asat on America’s vital responsibility to defend freedom abroad and renew democracy at home against the rising tide of authoritarianism. Ben Rhodes, the Deputy National Security Advisor to President Obama, will moderate. This event is in partnership with USC Annenberg, USC Dornsife, and the Schwarzenegger Institute.

In partnership with

American democracy is under attack, but the fight against authoritarianism has no boundaries. Our speakers know what it’s like to live under oppression – to be threatened, detained, or forced into exile. Throughout their fight, American principles have always inspired them. Now, their stories can inspire us.

Join us for a discussion on 

  1. Their stories of resilience;
  2. How the US can defend democracy around the world, and
  3. What foreign human rights activists can teach us about the rising culture of authoritarianism in America.


We are proud to welcome Pastor Evan MawarireMasih Alinejad, and Rayhan Asat to offer a unique, outside-in perspective on American democracy and the threats we face. Ben Rhodes will moderate.

This RDI event is in partnership with USC Dornsife, USC Annenberg, and the Schwarzenegger Institute.

Meet the Speakers

Masih Alinejad is an Iranian American author, TV broadcaster, human rights campaigner, and journalist who was forced to flee Iran for her safety in 2009 after criticizing lawmakers and political figures, including former President Ahmadinejad.

Evan Mawarire is a Zimbabwean democracy activist and clergyman who founded the #ThisFlag Citizens Movement to fight corruption, injustice, and poverty in Zimbabwe. 

Ben Rhodes is the co-chair of National Security Action, co-host of the podcast Pod Save the World and a contributor for NBC News and MSNBC. From 2009-2017, he served as a Deputy National Security Advisor to President Obama…

Rayhan Asat is a Uyghur human rights lawyer and advocate who has waged a public campaign to free her brother, Ekpar Asat, and fellow Uyghurs imprisoned in the Xinjiang internment camps. 

The Renew Democracy Initiative, as a 501(c)(3) organization, does not engage in political campaign activities, and neither endorses nor opposes any candidates for public office.

Masih Alinejad is an Iranian American author, TV broadcaster, human rights campaigner, and journalist who was forced to flee Iran for her safety in 2009 after criticizing lawmakers and political figures, including former President Ahmadinejad. Because of her advocacy work, she became the target of an alleged kidnapping attempt by Iranian intelligence agents while living in the U.S. in 2021. Described by The New York Times as “the woman whose hair frightens Iran,” she has been a leading voice in the campaign against compulsory hijabs in Iran. Masih is the founder of My Stealthy Freedom and is the author of the best-selling memoir The Wind in My Hair.

Evan Mawarire is a Zimbabwean democracy activist and clergyman who founded the #ThisFlag Citizens Movement to fight corruption, injustice, and poverty in Zimbabwe. He is a Reagan-Fascell Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, a former fellow at Stanford University’s Centre for Democracy Development and the Rule of Law, and a 2020 Yale University World Fellow. Named as the 2016 African of the year by the Daily Maverick Newspaper of South Africa and one of 100 top global thinkers of 2016 by Foreign Policy magazine, Mawarire continues to work as an advocate, speaker and trainer on nonviolent citizen-driven change, democracy development and human rights.

Ben Rhodes is the co-chair of National Security Action, co-host of the podcast Pod Save the World and a contributor for NBC News and MSNBC. From 2009-2017, he served as a Deputy National Security Advisor to President Obama, where he led the secret negotiations with the Cuban government to normalize relations between the United States and Cuba, and supported the negotiations to conclude the Iran nuclear deal. Prior to joining the Administration, he was a Senior Speechwriter and foreign policy advisor to the Obama campaign. Rhodes is the author of the New York Times bestsellers The World As It Is and After the Fall: Being American in the World We’ve Made.

Rayhan Asat is a Uyghur human rights lawyer and advocate who has waged a public campaign to free her brother, Ekpar Asat, and fellow Uyghurs imprisoned in the Xinjiang internment camps. She has successfully lobbied the U.S. government for sanctions against China for its campaign of genocide against the Uyghers, and advocated for the pasage of the Uyghur Forced Labor Protection Act. She advised the World Bank and OECD to design Human-Centered Business Integrity Principles and is a Yale World Fellow, a senior fellow at the Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights, and an advisor for multiple human rights groups.

Join the Frontlines of Freedom!
Subscribe to hear more about
our dissidents and new RDI content.​

Aaro Berhane

Lorem Ipsum is simply dummy text of the printing and typesetting industry. Lorem Ipsum has been the industry’s standard dummy text ever since the 1500s, when an unknown printer took a galley of type and scrambled it to make a type specimen book. It has survived not only five centuries, but also the leap into electronic typesetting, remaining essentially unchanged. It was popularised in the 1960s with the release of Letraset sheets containing Lorem Ipsum passages, and more recently with desktop publishing software like Aldus PageMaker including versions of Lorem Ipsum.