A Democratic Process Open to EveryonePosted: January 7, 2012
By Scott Warren and Daniel Millenson, Generation Citizen
Over the past several years, addressing educational inequity has become all the rage for recent college graduates, with applications to organizations like Teach For America and City Year skyrocketing. Often dubbed the “Civil Rights Movement of our time,” thousands of college graduates have dedicated themselves to closing the academic achievement gap to help guarantee equality of opportunity for all.
College- and career-readiness, and the improved academic skills they demand, are worthy, but incomplete goals. Ultimately, solutions to America’s most intractable problems must come from the best political resolution mechanism we know: the democratic process. Diplomas and jobs are not enough; we must mold engaged and informed citizens who will take up those challenges. Generation Citizen, an organization that is attempting to empower under-represented youth to be active participants in the democratic process, is predicated on the idea that every young person needs the knowledge and skills to effect change in their community. And the best way to learn civics is by doing civics – what we call “action civics.”
College students are absolutely vital to this equation. With an established record of solid academic achievement and leadership skills, college students are ideal leaders and mentors for secondary students, and can help them learn about and navigate the democratic process to take effective action on issues they care about.
Even more importantly, secondary students, in turn, can help collegians transcend the town-gown divide and develop an understanding of their communities outside the confines of the ivory tower. At a school like Brown University, students rarely get off of “College Hill”, not even knowing that their ID provides free local bus passes. This is a problem.
Hence Generation Citizen’s model, in which top-notch college volunteers work in low-income secondary classrooms for a semester to help students take action on an issue they care about, giving them a foundation for effecting community change. College students learn about the problems in the community through talking to the people most affected by the local politics.
Waiting for graduation to enlist college students in social justice careers is too late; majors and often career paths have already been decided. For our college volunteers, the experience is life-changing, and they frequently change their majors or career paths after participating in the program. Ensuring underrepresented youth have the knowledge and skills to make their voices heard – voices amplified by committed college volunteers – can help make our democracy truly representative.
Scott Warren is the Executive Director of Generation Citizen, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering underrepresented youth to be active participants in the democratic process. He is a current recipient of an Echoing Green Fellowship, and was a finalist for the Truman Scholarship. Scott graduated from Brown University with a degree in International Relations. In 2002, Scott served as an observer in the first truly democratic elections in Kenya’s history, where he began to recognize the transformative potential of democracy. During college, Scott served as the National Student Director of STAND, a national student anti-genocide coalition. Scott also helped lead successful campaigns to divest Brown University, the City of Providence, and the State of Rhode Island from companies conducting business in Sudan. Scott founded Generation Citizen his senior year at Brown with the aim of helping to create an authentic democratic experience for all youth across the country, keeping in mind the transformative power he first witnessed in Kenya.
Daniel Millenson is the managing director of Generation Citizen. Daniel spent the last two years as a Teach For America corps member in the Mississippi Delta, where he taught 11th and 12th grade English in one of the poorest counties in the state. Daniel graduated from Brandeis University with a degree in philosophy and history and was a finalist for the Truman Scholarship. While an undergraduate at Brandeis University, Daniel was the co-founder and national advocacy director of the Sudan Divestment Task Force (SDTF), a national effort to apply economic pressure on Sudan to halt the genocide in Darfur. Starting in 2005, SDTF pushed universities and public pension funds to divest their portfolios of companies engaged in problematic business operations in Sudan, ultimately getting divestment policies adopted by over 60 universities, 24 states, and the federal government.