Practicing Political Activism

By DAN BAUER ([email protected])

“D4D on the Road,” a national civic engagement workshop, made its annual stop at Allegheny on Nov. 6.

D4D, which stands for “Debating For Democracy,” taught students how to advocate and further their agendas within a democratic society.

“On the news, you see communities marching in protest or writing thousands of letters to Congress, but you don’t know how they got to this step,” said Rachel Poole, ’11, who attended the workshop. “D4D definitely fills in the gaps.”

D4D is one of the signature programs of Project Pericles, a not-for-profit organization that works with universities to encourage civic engagement. Along with its member organizations, Project Pericles works to establish civic engagement curriculum, as well as on-campus opportunities to for involvement.

This year, Project Pericles worked with Midwest Academy, a national training institute known for its focus on social justice, to educate Allegheny students on the virtues of what they call Direct Action Organizing.

According to the Midwest Academy website, “Direct Action Organizing is based on the power of the people to take collective action on their own behalf.  The people directly affected by the problem, whatever it is, take action to win a solution.”

This is a significant change from last year’s workshop, where students were taught how to utilize the media to attain their goals.

“This is the core of democracy, people identifying problems and working together towards solutions,” said David Hunt, the Midwest Academy trainer who led the workshop.

The techniques were taught over a six-hour period in the Tippie Alumni Center using a variety of methods, from lecture to role play.

“There was a wonderful balance between information sharing and experiential learning,” said Professor Amara Geffen, director of Allegheny’s Center for Economic and Environmental Development. “The facilitator from Midwest this year was amazing.”

At one point, students divided into two groups. One represented a corporation responsible for a chemical spill; the other, the people affected by the resulting pollution. The two groups then engaged in debate to advance their causes.

D4D’s tour continues at Pace University on Nov. 13, and wraps up on Jan. 30 at Macalester College. The workshop is expected to be available to Allegheny students next year.

For those who cannot wait a year, there will be another opportunity in April to get involved with Project Pericles. Students will craft policy proposals and submit them to Project Pericles, which will review the proposals and choose six. The students chosen will go to the D4D National Conference to competitively present their ideas to a panel of experts. Last year, Allegheny College students were among the finalists.

Students interested in becoming more involved in their community and democratic processes should contact the Civic Engagement Council for more information and ideas.