Democracy Matters Institute, Inc.
About the Grantee
Growing up on the tiny island of Canouan in the south Caribbean Sea, Adonal Foyle can recall how "little things" mattered for his grandparents and other community members. In a place where cars didn't exist, neighbors would provide their donkey so that older people who didn't have transportation could reach far-off election polling venues. He also remembers seeing the Prime Minister on the campaign trail roll up his sleeves and help a gardener do her work one day, all the while explaining why she should vote for him. These images remain with him today.
"Politics are very personal. They must affect people on a personal level [in order to] stay with you," said Foyle, now a professional basketball player with the NBA's Orlando Magic.
While a student at Colgate University, Foyle encountered feelings of hopelessness and disengagement from politics among his peers. This was a deep contrast from the passionate level of civic engagement he witnessed as a child in the Grenadines. "When you think about how much money it takes to run for office and a candidate's motivation for talking to people, it has nothing to do with issues. It's all about the money they need for their campaign. Politicians don't talk to [youth] because they don't have money, and they are left out," Foyle noted.
To combat this sense of apathy, Foyle created the Democracy Matters Institute (Democracy Matters) in 2001 with his adoptive parents, life-long organizers and college professors Joan and Jay Mandle. A nonprofit, nonpartisan organization and project of Common Cause, Democracy Matters trains young people how to be effective grassroots organizers and advocates, and supports full public financing of election campaigns ("fair elections") and other pro-democracy reforms.
Active on over 78 college campuses in 22 states, Democracy Matters involves hundreds of students and faculty nationwide. It provides internships to undergraduates who create campus groups that educate and organize faculty, students and local grassroots communities around the problems of money in politics and the importance of clean elections. Students facilitate action campaigns, teach-ins, educational seminars, and voter registration drives, and employ creative strategies to encourage dialogue, ranging from handing out flyers and chalking up campus sidewalks to guerilla theatre in public quadrangles, organizing trips to meet with politicians, writing op-eds and blogs, or picketing candidates at fundraisers. Campus chapters are also making inroads with high schools, where Democracy Matters alumni guest teach in classes, and conduct activities and campaigns with high school students.
In the future, Democracy Matters seeks to connect more of its alumni to national pro-democracy movements to continue to push for campaign finance reform. As Foyle stated, "It's not just a phase you go through in college. We're saying you've got to continue to be engaged. Here are other organizations doing work out there. It's your choice to continue the fight."
Through its education, mentoring, and mobilizing efforts, Democracy Matters will continue to transform how people do politics. No longer a forgotten voice, youth are empowered to talk about who they are and confidently participate in the system because politics have become personal and less intimidating.