Students converge on GW for Democracy Day

About 65 student leaders gathered at GW last week to learn about the inner workings of the democratic process at the second annual Democracy Day.

The event featured a variety of government officials, media writers and experts on terrorism. The day also included a panel debate between students about youth empowerment, skyrocketing college tuition and the declining political involvement of today’s youth. Student Association President Kris Hart was a panel speaker.

“(Democracy Day) is a celebration of the signing of the U.S. constitution,” said Dave Anderson, event organizer. “It’s a day of embracing democratic dissent. The constitution was designed for factions.”

Much of the event’s debate focused on ways to empower youth and jumpstart interest in the political process.

“The real highlight of the event was the student panel discussion,” Anderson said. “The four students did a superb job. The aim was to create some synergy between the speaker and the crowd in order to engage the audience.”

Anderson said close to 100 students submitted an RSVP to attend the day-long conference, but only about 65 showed up to learn about how democracy works. Officials blamed the low turnout on he threat of Hurricane Isabel, although several walk-ins came to the conference.

Speakers throughout the day included Patricia Schroeder, former Democratic Congresswoman from Colorado; Jim Dempsey, an expert on terrorism protection and its effects on the constitution; John Kornacki, director of Government Relations and Political Education for the Junior Statesman Foundation and Eleanor Clift, contributing editor for Newsweek magazine.

Views of democracy ranged from optimistic to more cynical visions of the democratic process.

“We don’t resolve problems, we just litigate them and they reoccur,” Kornacki said.

The conference attracted students from universities in Washington and across the country and world.

“We heard about the event through the Washington Center, an organization that provides internships to students abroad,” said Nydia Rodriguez-Lara, a student from Chihuahua, Mexico, looking for a D.C. internship. “They told us there was going to be an event about the workings of democracy. It was very well-organized.”

The first Democracy Day conference was held Sept. 17, 2002, a date chosen in memory of the signing of the U.S. constitution. The conference is a cooperative effort between Youth ’04, an organization headed up by Anderson to get students more involved with the democratic process, and the Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet.

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