Students know democracy matters
Foyle is the founder and president of Democracy Matters, a nonpartisan student organization mentoring the next generation of leaders dedicated to strengthening our democracy.
When I was drafted by the NBA's Golden State Warriors in 1987, a dream came true. But I had another dream during the 13 years that I played in the NBA. That was to help students throughout the country have a voice in their democracy. I wanted to give back to those who had helped make me become politically aware in college. So along with my adopted parents who were professors at Colgate University, I founded Democracy Matters. I knew that students cared about the environment, health care, women's and LGBTQ rights, gun violence, mass incarceration and more. I knew they wanted to make a difference by being politically effective, but they often didn't know how to go about it.
Like many of us, young people have been politically silenced by the power of big money in politics. Big money campaign donors dominate our elections with their ability to overwhelmingly determine who runs for office, who wins and how they vote when elected. The use of restrictive rules to deny young people and others the right to vote has made them feel they don't have a voice — that politicians don't care what they think.
Democracy Matters' college and high school chapters are pushing back against apathy and cynicism by becoming organizers on their campuses. As a nonprofit and nonpartisan national student organization, DM mentors and mobilizes high school and college students to become political activists. By emphasizing the necessity of a strong and inclusive democracy, DM engages young people in the struggle for reforms that will make their voices heard and respected in the political process.
Democracy Matters students promote pro-democracy issues including public campaign financing, voting rights, gerrymandering and government ethics. They learn the skills of successful grassroots organizing, public speaking and coalition-building. They become strong advocates for the need for reforms to strengthen our democracy.
Democracy Matters offers student internships to create DM chapters at their schools and organize outreach to their peers. With creative discussion groups, lectures, educational poster campaigns, film screenings, in-class raps, video-making and tabling, DM students capture the attention of students and faculty. They organize voter registration drives and get out the student vote on election days. They hold DemoROCKacy parties with student bands, organize poetry slams and feature open mic nights.
With this, they raise awareness and urge others to join them in resisting attacks on our democracy. Because so many important issues are stymied by the power of big political money and the suppression of voting rights, fighting for a fair and inclusive democracy is the best way to make progress on the many causes that students already embrace.
Neal is federal government affairs manager at R Street Institute, a nonpartisan and pro-free-market public policy research organization.
The term "democratic norms" has become a misnomer over the last year. America's governing institutions are undermined by elected officials who dishonor their offices and each other. Standards of behavior and "normal" processes of governance seem to be relics of a simpler time. Our democracy has survived thus far, but the wounds are many.
Free speech and free press have been the White House's two consistent whipping posts. Comments such as "I think it is embarrassing for the country to allow protestors" and constant attacks on press credibility showcase President Trump's disdain for the pillars of democracy. Traditional interactions between the administration and the press are no longer taken for granted. Demeaning, toxic criticisms have become so common that they're being ignored. As the administration revokes critics' press passes and daily briefings are canceled, normalcy in this arena is sorely missed.
Having had remarkable success at signing people up to vote in Texas last year, an Austin group of activists is expanding its pilot program into a full-blown national effort to overcome the sometimes ignored first hurdle for people in the voting process — registration.
"There are millions of voters who are registered who don't get out to vote," said Christopher Jasinski, director of partnerships for Register2Vote. "But the unmeasured part of the pie is the actual number of unregistered voters."