VIRTUAL EVENT RECORDING: Racism, Protest and American Democracy

A virtual discussion with Michael Signer '95 and Patricia L. Irvin '76. Recording available now.


The Princeton Club of Washington welcomes Michael Signer '95 and Patricia L. Irvin ‘76 to discuss racism, protest and democracy. Signer is the former Mayor of Charlottesville and author of "Cry Havoc: Charlottesville and American Democracy Under Siege." Cry Havoc is a first-hand account of the months before, during, and after the Unite the Right rally in 2017, set against the backdrop of a country struggling to find its way in a disruptive new era. Irvin is a lawyer who combined her career in corporate law with a commitment to promoting human rights, equality and racial justice.

If you have not had time to read Cry Havoc, listen to Michael on NPR's "All Things Considered" talking about the future of Confererate monuments and how to reconcile freedom of speech with public safety here; read his essay in Time on the disturbing parallels between Charlottesville and Minneapolis here; and watch his interview on CNN on the lessons from Cry Havoc for handling questions of protests, racism, extremism, and government accountability here.  


Signer and Irvin will discuss some of the most challenging questions confronting America today:

  • How do we reconcile free speech and public safety? 
  • How can we maintain our values of pragmatism, compromise, and respect in a time of polarization and increasing extremism?  
  • How do we address systemic racism through our public spaces and memorials? 
  • How can we hold the perpetrators and instigators to account? 
  • And how might we carve a path forward to rebuild and revitalize American democracy? 

When: Wednesday, June 17 | 7pm


Where: Online (Zoom)


Please click here to view a recording of this event.


About the Speakers

Mike Signer is a public scholar, practicing attorney, and executive. For over twenty years, Mike has worked to promote democratic resilience - as a public servant, author, attorney, executive, and advocate.  

Mike served as the mayor of Charlottesville, Virginia, from 2016–2018 during the Unite the Right rally of 2017. The Washington Post wrote that he was “one of Trump’s strongest critics.” Afterward, he founded and chaired Communities Overcoming Extremism: the After Charlottesville Project, a bipartisan coalition including the Anti-Defamation League, the Ford Foundation, the Charles Koch Institute, the Fetzer Institute, and New America. National Public Radio featured Mike’s work “sharing painful lessons from the fight against hate.” 

Mike is VP and general counsel of the country’s largest independent digital design agency, where he sits on the firm’s executive committee. He has also taught for the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech. He is the author of three books: Cry Havoc: Charlottesville and American Democracy under Siege (PublicAffairs, 2020), Becoming Madison: The Extraordinary Origins of the Least Likely Founding Father (PublicAffairs, 2015), and Demagogue: the Fight to Save Democracy from Its Worst Enemies (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009). He has written for the New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and Time, and has been interviewed on Meet the Press, Face the Nation, The Rachel Maddow Show, AC360, and NPR. 

He is a recipient of the Levenson Family Defender of Democracy Award from the Anti-Defamation League, the Courage in Political Leadership Award from the American Society for Yad Vashem, and the Rob DeBree & David O’Malley Award for Community Response to Hatred from the Matthew Shepard Foundation. Forward Magazine has named him one of 50 most influential Jewish leaders in America. He is an Aspen Institute Rodel Fellow.  He has been profiled by the New York Times, Washington Post, NPR, CNN, and the Guardian. 

He lives with his wife and their twin five year old boys in Charlottesville.  In his spare time, he enjoys running, reading, cooking, gardening, and being a jungle gym for his boys. 


By any measure, Pat Irvin has had an impressive career. She holds a law degree from Harvard and was a partner at the prestigious Wall Street law firm, Milbank Tweed. She served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Clinton administration, a role that took her around the world, including to humanitarian "hot spots" such as Bosnia, Iraq, Cambodia and Rwanda. She has also served in executive positions as diverse as a start-up entertainment company and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. She currently runs her own real estate investment business.

Pat has sat on a number of boards ranging from the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund to the Lincoln Theatre/U Street Foundation and the U.S. Committee for Refugees. She is generous with her time and talent in support of others. As just one example, in 1984 she founded PALS, Practicing Attorneys for Law Students, which mentors and supports law students of color in the New York City area, including many Princeton graduates, and still thrives today. On an informal basis, she continues to keep her door open to any young African American professionals in need of mentoring who reach out to her. 

Through all this, she has served Princeton well. Pat was a University trustee and sat on the board of the Association of Black Princeton Alumni. While on the board of the Princeton Alumni Association of New York, s a hihe startedghly successful new program, called 40 Plus Salon, for older of a certain age and parents of current students. Currently, she serves on the board of Princeton Progressives. 

Pat's engagement with the Princeton Prize in Race Relations — a dozen years on the board, vice chair and then chair of the Nominations and Governance Committee — clearly demonstrated her character: her staunch insistence on keeping the highest standards, fully integrated with her generosity of spirit, her wealth of wisdom and the warmth of her welcome to all. A member of the national board from its inception, Pat was, as program founder Henry von Kohorn '66 notes, critical to the formulation of the program. From her own experience of facing racial discrimination in her travels around the world, she, with classmate Fred Dashiell, pushed to ensure that board meetings be more than just a "feel good" time, but instead that each meeting keep the focus on the serious discussion of race relations. In 2015, Pat received the Award for Service to Princeton, which recognizes outstanding service contributions to Princeton by any member of the Princeton family, with special emphasis on those who serve significantly, but inconspicuously.