So, this weekend I traveled north with 4 other McDaniel students for the annual Democracy Matters Summit in Albany, New York. We drove to Albany on Friday after all of us were finished our classes for the day and arrived around 9:30pm, in time to watch the majority of the movie that was scheduled. It was a good movie, and it made some really good points about how money in politics influences the United States and in the movie, a professor is talking to his students on their last day of class and he explains to them that he believes all of them have the potential to change the world, if they are truly willing to fight for it and to work for it.
On Saturday morning, the conference properly began since many of the schools that lived near Albany did not attend on Friday night. The welcoming remarks were made by Adonal Foyle, the founder of Democracy Matters and Joan Mandle, his adopted mother and the Executive Director of Democracy Matters. He talked about how having professors for parents shaped his world view, but also about how in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, everyone voted and it was a huge deal not to vote. He explained how shocked he was when he learned how few people vote in the United States and the issues with political participation. He also talked about how a professor in his college started his thinking by simply stating “Young people are apathetic” and making them discuss. It was a great introduction because it showed his own personal involvement and why he cared. Joan ended the remarks by talking about what people need in order to be passionate and to get others involved.
Our first session of the day was a break out session in which people got into groups and talked about campus organizing and what methods worked at each other’s schools and what didn’t. It was a great chance to brainstorm with students from different schools and different areas as well. During the session, we came up with some interesting ideas for events in the upcoming semester to try and involve more students. My group had its break out sessions with Anita Kinney, who is my national coordinator and also came to our campus to speak in the fall. We then had a variety of speakers.
The first speaker was someone from Citizens United talking about the current actions trying to get Public Financing passed in New York because they finally got the governor to put it on the budget agenda and now they need it put in the final budget in April. It was an okay session, but it talked a lot about how the New York schools could help, but left out the rest of the groups other than mentioning a new resolution called the Government for the People Act that is supposed to be introduced on the national level soon. The next speaker was Jay Mandle, an economist, who talked about the idea of elections as a public good and put forth the argument that if tax dollars are used to publicly fund elections, it limited the ability of corporations and wealthy individuals to influence politics so extensively.
My favorite speaker was the last official speaker of the day, Rosemary Rivera, because she invited volunteers to talk about how a lot of people can help make a bully back down, and then applied it to social justice, economic justice, and more. Myself, Mehar, Alyssa, and Phil were all a part of that demostration.
The picture above is Rosemary, Mehar, and Adonal at the start of the demostration. During the first part, Adonal acted as a bully since he is very tall and Mehar was the victim. When Adonal asked Mehar for his money, Mehar denied having any. Adonal asked Mehar what was in his pocket, and of course our resident science person responded that he had uranium in his pocket and the entire room cracked up. Then, Rosemary called for Mehar’s friends (ask the McDaniel group) to come join him so the rest of us went up there and we demostrated how bullies tend to back off when they are outnumbers, which them applied to the politicians and the corporations. If we get enough people behind a movement, then people can have a louder voice than the money flowing into politics. Nevertheless, it certainly is not easy to get enough people nowadays.
After the final speaker, we went back into our break out groups for another session dedicated to planning events in a SMART manner. It talked about different planning techniques that could be used to make an event successful and reach a wider audience. It was a useful session and a great way to end the day because we all had to plan a hypothetical event with people from different schools that used the different SMART techniques. It was really neat seeing what different groups came up with and it was a great idea starter for events for the Spring semester.
Overall, I enjoyed the conference and I definitely learned some new techniques, new information, and more. Plus, it was great to get to know more professionals in public activism and hear their recommendations on how to plan for the future.