The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

D4D empowers student advocacy, hones political skill and technique

By Jens Tamang

About 20 students improved their skills at advocating policy positions and communicating with elected officials through small group exercises, lectures and role-playing on Nov. 1 in the Weyerhaeuser Boardroom in a workshop called Debating for Democracy, or D4D. The program was sponsored by Project Pericles, a non-profit organization that promotes social responsibility and participatory citizenship in 22 colleges across the United States on college campuses, and it was led by Christopher Kush, the president of Soapbox Consulting, a grassroots training organization, and the author of “The One-Hour Activist.”The workshop was broken up into several different sections, each seeking to teach a different “tactic.” Students broke into small groups, each of which were assigned one of five issues: “Energy and the Environment,” “Privacy and Free Speech,” “Race, Income, and Access,” “International Affairs” and “Health Care/Other.” Students brainstormed potential federal, state and local interventions; these intervention plans formed the basis for the rest of the workshop.

“We’re trying to get them into the habit of thinking of their opposition without rolling their eyes and actually [addressing] issues,” said Kevin Schultze, a former reporter for ABC News and one of the presenters from Soapbox Consulting.

Kush led a session on drafting letters to public officials. After being given a rubric, each student group drafted a letter persuading an elected official to take action pertaining to the groups’ respective issues.

“You’ve got to be humane when you fight for your policy,” Kush said. “Generating energy independence is a good idea on paper, but how can we connect it to a specific person? We ask, ‘How do we articulate why someone should care about an issue?'”

Students read their letters aloud and received critiques from Kush.

Schultze led a session during which students made a mock phone call to a reporter. Students then had to persuade the reporter, played by Schultze, to cover an event, such as a rally or conference. Schultze followed up with critique and gave students strategies for dealing with local news media.

“You’ve got to build relationships with reporters,” Schultze said. “It’s the reporters who pitch the story ideas to the editors.”

“I hadn’t ever heard of Project Pericles before the announcement for the workshop was posted,” said Helena Anderson ’11, one of the student participants. “I got into activism through Amnesty International, which is a great organization, but they tend to just throw issues at you without giving you all of the tools needed to address them.

“D4D filled in the gaps by teaching activism skills like contacting representatives, getting media attention, and speaking at town hall meetings. The outline for writing letters and e-mails to elected officials was one the most helpful tools I got from the event.”

Jan Liss, Executive Director of Project Pericles, commended the Macalester students who participated in the event as “really professional.”

Macalester College joined Project Pericles in 2003. Since then the school has worked with the organization to create such initiatives as the Center for Civic Engagement, to establish groups like the Engaged Campus Committee and the Civic Structure Committee and to begin projects like the Political Participation Efforts and the Engaged Departments Project. Macalester also hosted the first national conference of Project Pericles in fall 2004.

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