Former Virginia Governor: Duty of Citizenship is Key to Democracy

Jim Gilmore
Former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore at Garrett Hall for Batten Hour on September 11. 

When crisis hits, staying calm and delivering the right message for the moment are the hallmarks of leadership, former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore told a packed room today in Garrett Hall. He reflected on his experience as governor on September 11, 2001, when terrorists attacked the U.S., including flying a plane into the Pentagon in Arlington County. 

On that day, he immediately set into motion emergency response protocols at the state and local levels, and then went to the Pentagon. He knew his presence at the site would send a message of resilience for the public. 

Gilmore, who graduated from UVA with a bachelor’s degree and a law degree, was on Grounds Monday to teach a class and give a talk hosted by the National Security Policy Center at the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. 

With Dean Ian Solomon posing a range of questions, Gilmore reflected on the preparedness of the U.S. for potential future attacks, the rise of authoritarianism globally and the war in Ukraine, which he sees as pivotal in global relations in the years to come. 

Authoritarians have a vision of what the world should be, he said, and they use force to achieve it, but their main problem is the U.S. and its role as the model of democracy. 

“The desire for freedom and liberty that so exemplifies the U.S. is in the hearts of everyone, and if we adhere to those values, then we will win.” 

He also talked about the notion of public service and the duty of citizenship in the U.S., which he believes have declined over several decades. “Americans right now are an audience for Fox News, MSNBC, or CNN and other cable companies,” he said, urging people to move from audience to actors by seizing opportunities to be engaged in their communities. 

To the Batten students in attendance at today’s event, Gilmore went further. “You seem to be deciding to be a leader, that’s why you’re here at Batten, so it’s more than just an opportunity to engage, it’s a duty to lead” and strengthen democracy here and around the world.

Garrett Hall at Sunset

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