2013 Debating for Democracy (D4D)™ National Conference
I met the greatest, most passionate and intelligent people. - Wagner College Student
I truly enjoyed the entire conference and feel that I learned a significant amount about non-profits and issues of policy and advocacy.... - Elon University Student
I felt inspired to strive for my dreams.... - Widener University Student
Tar sands, gun control, violence against women, and reproductive health rights were some of the many issues discussed by student leaders as they met with public policy experts and activists at this year's Debating for Democracy (D4D) National Conference. The two-day conference, an initiative of Project Pericles, was hosted in New York by Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts on March 21 and 22.
This was our best conference to date. The students were just fantastic - they were thoughtful, asked insightful questions, and were excited to be here. All of our workshop leaders commented on how engaged and enthusiastic the students were. - Garret Batten, Assistant Director, Project Pericles
The conference agenda included workshops, breakout sessions, panel discussions, visits to nonprofit organizations, and networking opportunities. Attended by student leaders from Periclean campuses, college presidents, faculty, staff, nonprofit activists, and foundation, government, and community leaders, the conference provided a forum to share ideas and advocate for issues of critical social and political concern - representing the mission of Project Pericles in action.
Our thanks to Eugene M. Lang whose vision inspired this conference and to the Eugene M. Lang Foundation for its support of the conference.
A Conference Highlight: The D4D Legislative Hearing. Pictured: Eugene M. Lang, Jan R. Liss, judges Thomas J. Downey, Constance Berry Newman, Kurt L. Schmoke, Harris L. Wofford, and hearing participants and their program directors.
D4D Legislative Hearing: Five Finalist Teams Present Letters to Elected Officials
Five "Letters to an Elected Official" were featured at the conference's Legislative Hearing. They were selected from over 60 letters written by teams of students from Pericleans proposing innovative solutions to issues including campaign finance and electoral reform, education, immigration, and the environment. These letters were sent to over 100 elected officials.
At the hearing, finalists defended their ideas to a legislative committee that included former government officials: U.S. Congressman (D-NY) Thomas J. Downey; U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Constance Berry Newman; Mayor of Baltimore, MD Kurt L. Schmoke; and U.S. Senator (D-PA) Harris L. Wofford. Each finalist team received a cash award to advance their issue through an advocacy and education campaign.
The Swarthmore College team, represented by Amanda Epstein and Alexandra Willingham, took first place and a $3,000 award for their defense of their "Letter to State Senator Edwin B. Erickson (R-PA) Concerning the Parental Notification Section of the Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act." They urged Senator Erickson to repeal the requirement that minors seek parental notification before receiving an abortion. The two argued that the law unduly burdens minors who live in potentially unsafe conditions and that the court system was not able to adequately provide information needed to obtain a judicial bypass as required under the law.
Receiving semifinalist awards of $500 were:
Bates College for "A Letter to U.S. Representative Michael Michaud (D-ME) Concerning the Tar Sands Transport Through Maine." Jessica Nichols and Kate Paladin urged Representative Michaud to order a review of the Portland-Montreal Pipeline in order to block the potential importation of tar sands from Canada, which they argued possesses serious environmental risks to Maine's waterways and would contribute to climate change.
Berea College for "A Letter to State Senator Frank Niceley (R-TN) Concerning TN S.B. 132 and the Reduction of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) in Tennessee." Mira Denton and Nathaniel Stewart argued that assistance should not be tied to the academic performance of minor children. The bill would reduce benefits by 30% for failure to make "satisfactory academic progress."
Carleton College for "A Letter to U. S. Representative John Kline (R-MN) in Support of the Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) of 1994." Gabriela Arteaga and Emily Lamberty argued that the reauthorization of VAWA should include specific protections for Native Americans, immigrants, and members of the LGBTQ community. Prior to their presentation, Congress did reauthorize VAWA with protections for all three groups.
Chatham University for "A Letter to State Representative Dan Frankel (D-PA) on the Inclusion of STEM Gender Equity in the Pennsylvania MESA Initiative Act (PA H.B. 110)." Jeannette Schollaert and Nicole Werwie proposed amending the bill "to include the encouragement of female interest in STEM careers."
Bates D4D Students meet with Senator Angus King (I-ME)
On April 2, the Harward Center at Bates College hosted a lunch for Senator Angus King and Bates students who submitted letters to an elected official as part of the Project Pericles D4D competition. Students discussed the transportation of tar sands through Maine, as well as other policy issues, with Senator King. In attendance were Legislative Hearing finalists Jessica Nichols and Kate Paladin, conference attendees Dana Cohen-Kaplan and Alexandra Morrow, Bates students Theodosia Fehsenfeld and Megan Lubetkin, as well as Darby Ray, Director, Harward Center for Community Partnerships and Project Pericles Program Director and Laura Sewall, Director Bates-Mores Mountain Conservation Area.
Engaging with Public Policy Experts and Leading Activists
Insights from the presidential election, voter suppression, and demographic shifts in the electorate were all discussed during a panel moderated by The New School President David E. Van Zandt that included Keesha Gaskins, Senior Counsel, Democracy Program, Brennan Center for Justice; David Nir, Political Director, Daily Kos; and Janell Ross, Business Reporter, The Huffington Post.
Jan R. Liss, Project Pericles Executive Director, led a panel discussion examining methods of promoting social action at both personal and systemic levels. Commenting on the breakout groups that followed the panel, a Chatham University student stated:
I loved the exercises we got to do with storytelling ... because we were made to use the methods and techniques that policy makers actually use in D.C.
Rajeev Goyal, author of The Springs of Namje: A Ten-Year Journey from the Villages of Nepal to the Halls of Congress and Peace Corps activist, delivered the keynote address at dinner. Audience members were riveted by Goyal's description of his time in Nepal and in Washington, D.C., where he organized a successful campaign for the largest ever increase in the Peace Corps budget.
Capping the evening, Project Pericles Founder Eugene M. Lang presented the organization's highest award, the Periclean Service award, to Senator Harris L. Wofford for his longstanding commitment to Project Pericles. Lang commented on his great admiration for Senator Wofford, his support of civic engagement, and his role in the development of the Peace Corps.
Other session topics included the role of nonprofits in our democracy, building effective national and international organizations and movements, and addressing the federal budget deficit.
Additional panelists and speakers included: Wesley Adams, AllOut.org; Phil Aroneanu, 350.org; Stephanie P. Browner, Dean, Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts; Ami Dar, Idealist.org; Catherine Diamond, Director of Health Literacy, "I Have A Dream" Foundation; John Eastman, Global Learning Across Borders; Mo George, Community Voices Heard; Erycka Montoya Pérez, Friends of the High Line; Hilary Cramer Robinson, "I Have A Dream" Foundation; Debjani Roy, Hollaback; Maria Santangelo, College and Community Fellowship; Amy Stein-Milford, Museum at Eldridge Street; and Noam Unger, Global Citizen Year.
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Periclean Colleges & Universities
Allegheny College * Bates College * Berea College * Bethune-Cookman University
Carleton College * Chatham University * Dillard University * Drew University
Earlham College * Elon University * Goucher College * Hampshire College
Hendrix College * Macalester College * Morehouse College *New England College
The New School * Occidental College * Pace University * Pitzer College
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute * Rhodes College * St. Mary's College of Maryland
Spelman College * Swarthmore College * Ursinus College
Wagner College * Widener University * The College of Wooster
Executive Director: Jan R. Liss, firstname.lastname@example.org
Board of Directors
Chair: Eugene M. Lang
Vice-Chair: Neil R. Grabois
Chair: Rebecca S. Chopp, Swarthmore College
Vice-Chair: Richard Guarasci, Wagner College
National Board of Advisors
Co-Chairs: Sen. Nancy Kassebaum Baker & Hon. Kurt L. Schmoke
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