2011 Democracy Matters Summit

This past weekend I returned to Albany, NY to participate in my fifth consecutive Democracy Matters summit and it never ceases to be an educational and inspiring experience.  A special part of this year’s summit was that DM’s president and founder, Adonal Foyle, was able to attend and give the keynote address.

Foyle is one of the most amazing individuals I have ever met.  He is a true athlete, activist, scholar, and role model.  From humble beginnings, his life story is an amazing one – born on a small island in the Caribbean, coming to America as a teenager, graduating magna cum laude from Colgate University, entering the NBA as first round draft pick in 1997, founding Democracy Matters in 2001, becoming the first Vice President National Basketball Players Association, founding the Kerosene Lamp Foundation in 2006, getting his MA in sports psychology, and recently becoming the head of player development for the Orlando Magic.  WOW!  When someone like Adonal and his two amazing parents, Joan and Jay Mandle, run an organization, there’s no question young people will be inspired to be agents of change.

As an organization that mobilizes and trains young people to organize their campuses and communities around pro-democracy issues, particularly the issue of getting big money out of politics and advocating for public campaign financing, Democracy Matters has faced some serious challenges to our ideals in the last couple years, especially considering the Citizens United case that essentially allows for unlimited corporate funding of campaign ads.  There were also several legal challenges to successful public campaign financing that have been working at the state level across the country.  All that being said, I saw student organizers more committed than ever and geared up to go back to their campuses and organize clever, innovative, and educational campaigns.

This year I facilitated three different workshops: (1) Organizing 101: How to Organize S.M.A.R.T Campaigns, which looked at different techniques and strategies for coordinating successful events and campaigns; (2) Careers in the Social Good, which looked at different tips and offered advice for developing a professional career in the nonprofit, organizing field; and (3) Fighting the Corporate Takeover, which was a  planning session for students to start designing specific campaigns to implement upon returning to their campuses.

Lastly, I incorporated two media elements into the summit this year.  First, I brought some flip cameras with me and handed them out to the students for them to interview each other about what they were learning throughout the weekend and why they care about getting big money out of politics.  I will be turning this into a short film (stay tuned).  I also worked with one of the other facilitators at the summit to start a #dm2011 Twitter feed for students to share their tweets on what they were learning and experiencing throughout the summit.  It was not as successful as I had hoped, but still a fun experiment.

I look forward to attending the summit again next year.  DM is a great organization that is continually keeping me tuned into grassroots organizing.

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