Debating for Democracy (D4D)™

Debating for Democracy (D4D)™ is a series of distinctive campus-based programs that represents the mission of Project Pericles in action: D4D Letters to an Elected Official Competition, D4D National Conference, D4D on the Road™ workshops, and a number of co-curricular programs. D4D promotes civic engagement and effective advocacy skills among a wide range of students. Students acquire the knowledge and skills they need to advance their issues and to get their messages across to elected officials, fellow students, community groups, and the media.

Students have done important work including:

  • A Bates College student testified before the Maine Legislature about the need to provide aid for asylum-seekers. A student team created a public service announcement to introduce Mainers to the stories of asylum-seekers.
  • Carleton College students ran youth empowerment workshops for local high school students, who went on to develop an active school reform campaign of their own.
  • Many students have met with their elected officials and congressional staff members as well as organized campaigns in support of the DREAM ACT, mountaintop-removal coal mining, Net Neutrality, and the Violence Against Women Act, among others.

The D4D Letter to an Elected Official Competition 
engages students around public policy issues, the political process, and with their elected officials. Since 2008, hundreds of teams from Periclean colleges and universities have participated in this competition. In addition to writing a letter to an elected official, we ask students to share a project proposal about how they would use their award. Every year, a panel of judges with significant legislative experience select five winning letters written by teams of students. Project Pericles awards prizes to the winning student teams to support their efforts in moving their issues forward locally and nationally. 

This year's letters proposed innovative solutions to a wide variety of issues including climate change and environmental protection, education reform, gun violence, immigration and DACA, prison and sentencing reform, sexual assault, and Title IX enforcement. These letters were sent to elected officials throughout the United States.

An elected official who served as one of the external evaluators wrote, "I hope you will tell the students how much I enjoyed reading their letters and how much I appreciated their thoughtfulness as they addressed such pressing policy issues."

We look forward to working with the winning and finalist teams of the 2018 D4D Letters to an Elected Official Competition throughout the 2018-2019 academic year:

Carleton College, "A Letter in Support of Thwarting Domestic Terrorism by Restricting Potentially Violent Individuals from Access to Guns and to Prohibit Assault Weapons (H.F 3022)" to Representative Jason Lewis (R-MN) by Ilan Friedland, Marlena Resnick, Sophie Rogers, Justine Seligson, and Jackie Tyson

Pace University, "A Letter in Support of Repealing the Dickey Amendment in order to Permit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to Fund Research Related to Gun Violence" to Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) by David Lê and Laurianne Gutierrez

Pitzer College, "A Letter in Support of Research on Strategies to Reduce Recidivism for the Formerly Incarcerated (Title I of Bill 3356) and Providing Adequate Halfway Houses" to Representative Nanette Barragán (D-CA) by Marquise Brooks, Malakai Embry, Pedro Florez, Amber Burkhart, and Blake Clement

Reed College, "A Letter in Support of Greater Geographic/Racial Representation on the Advisory Group Implementing the Ethnic Studies Standards in the Oregon Public School System (House Bill 2845)" to Governor Kate Brown (D) by Soha Ahmed, Maya Arigala, Mayaki Kimba, and Kwani Marcellay

Skidmore College, "A Letter Urging the Introduction of Legislation to Protect Mid-Atlantic Coastal Waters and the Outer Continental Shelf from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management's Offshore Drilling Proposals" to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) by Isaac Bardin and Ted Randell

At the D4D National Conference, student leaders from Periclean campuses across the country are joined by college presidents, faculty, foundation representatives, government officials, community leaders, and members of the media to participate in a series of panels and workshops with leading experts on civic engagement, education, the environment, journalism, social entrepreneurship, and public policy. 

The National Conference features a Legislative Hearing in which teams of students compete for $5,000 in prize money that is used to develop advocacy and educational campaigns around critical issues. Project Pericles designed the conference to provide students with concrete steps they can take to move the issue they wrote about, and other issues, forward. Students are encouraged and expected to return to their campuses to advance civic and political engagement among their classmates.

The Project Pericles team is working on the 2019 D4D National Conference. It will be hosted by Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts in New York City from March 27th-29th, 2019. Please be on the lookout for more details regarding the conference on our website and through our newsletter.

Conference presenters have included:

  • Emily Badger, Staff Writer, The Washington Post
  • Carol Browner, former EPA Administrator
  • Jeffrey Clements, Author of Corporations Are Not People
  • Ami Dar, Founder and Executive Director,
  • Thomas J. Downey, former U.S. Congressman (D-NY)
  • Rajeev K. Goyal, author of The Springs of Namje: A Ten-Year Journey from the Villages of Nepal to the Halls of Congress
  • Jacob S. Hacker, author of Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer--and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class
  • Arthur Levine, President, Woodrow Wilson Foundation
  • Michael S. McPherson, President, Spencer Foundation
  • Constance Berry Newman, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs
  • Pedro Noguera, Professor of Teaching and Learning, New York University
  • Kurt L. Schmoke, former Mayor of Baltimore, MD
  • Ben Smith, Editor-in-Chief, BuzzFeed
  • Harris L. Wofford, former U.S. Senator (D-PA)

The very first D4D National Conference (in 2008) was funded by the Christian A. Johnson Endeavour Foundation.

The D4D on the Road workshops hosted at Periclean colleges and universities provide training in leadership development, media strategy, coalition building, and effective messaging. In addition to their own students and staff, hosting Periclean campuses around the country welcome students from other local colleges and universities as well as community members. Using our carefully designed model, advocacy experts empower students, faculty, staff, and community members to advance their particular issue or cause. Participants identify new strategies for making change, practice developing and delivering an effective advocacy message, and build relationships to support and sustain their work.

Since 2008, Project Pericles has trained more than 3,400 participants at Periclean colleges and universities across the United States. All of the Periclean campuses have participated in D4D on the Road. Through these day-long workshops, participants learn to work within the democratic processes to improve the condition of society. Utilizing a series of dynamic exercises, participants learn strategies for developing effective messages, critically analyzing the opposition's message, and the importance of thoroughly understanding their target audiences.

Project Pericles appreciates the generous support of The Spencer Foundation, the Eugene M. Lang Foundation and our Periclean colleges and universities for supporting the 2015-2016 D4D on the Road workshops. Previous funders have included the Henry Luce Foundation.