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Debating for Democracy Workshop Brings Together Local Students

December 11, 2012 at 9:41 pm

Debating for Democracy

This election season, one thing seems clearer than ever: it’s hard to get a room of people to agree on anything related to politics. But on Saturday, September 22, 65 student activists from Northfield, Faribault, and the Twin Cities came together around a topic that everyone could support: political advocacy skills.

The Debating for Democracy (D4D) on the Road workshop, held in Carleton’s Great Hall, led participants through a full day of activities and reflection designed to provide new and veteran activists with the tools they need to get their message out. The D4D on the Road workshop is an initiative of Project Pericles, a national organization that promotes participatory citizenship on the campuses of 29 colleges and universities around the country. Carleton is the first college to host the workshop this year, kicking off a four-month tour. Christopher Kush and Kevin Schultze of Soapbox Consulting led the D4D workshop, and participants included students from Carleton, St. Olaf, Macalester, and the high schools in Northfield and Faribault. Student staff and volunteer leaders from Carleton's Center for Community and Civic Engagement were especially well-represented among the workshop participants.

Why did dozens of students choose to spend their Saturday on skills that seem far removed from their academic lives? Explaining that Carleton offers opportunities to get involved in a variety of issues, D4D participant Cam Shorb ’16 said, “I came here so I would have the skills to do that—to not just be active, but to be active and effective.” Throughout the day, participants practiced general skills like analyzing policy issues and using media outlets to broadcast their message to awide audience. For the fifteen Northfield and Faribault high school students in attendance, including representatives from the Northfield college-access program TORCH, the Northfield youth leadership group LEAD, and Faribault peer-support STOPS program, the D4D workshop taught strategies to address specific problems they see in their communities. One Faribault student, Bisharo, said that the workshop was important because “We have certain issues in our school, and we learned steps to make change.” The high school students also said they valued the connections they made to other participants. Ubah, also from Faribault High School, said, “I found people [at D4D] who were interested in my story.”

The participation of high school students was made possible by an ongoing youth leadership project that has its roots in Project Pericles. In 2011, Anna Fure-Slocum ’12 and Nick Welna ’12 participated in Project Pericles’ annual letter-writing contest, and their letter about youth voices in the education reform movement won first place. With the award, Fure-Slocum and Welna won funding for a year of youth leadership trainings and workshops for students in Northfield and Faribault. These trainings helped students identify and address issues they cared about in their school communities. The D4D workshop is building on this advocacy work. The high school students, along with their fellow activists from Carleton, Macalester, and St. Olaf, will bring the advocacy skills they learned at D4D back to their communities.