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What is the What: Moving from Story Telling to Action

“Whatever I do, however I find a way to live, I will tell these stories. I have spoken to every person I have encountered these last difficult days…I speak to these people, and I speak to you because I cannot help it. It gives me strength, almost unbelievable strength.” – from What is the What by Dave Eggers

By Cecilia M. Orphan, National Manager, American Democracy Project

If you have read the book What is the What, you know that it is both beautiful and heartbreaking. It is the harrowing story of a Sudanese Lost Boy, Valentino Achak Deng, who collaborated with Dave Eggers to share his experiences with an American audience. Valentino was separated from his family during the Second Sudanese Civil War and made his way to a refugee camp in Ethiopia. After leaving the refugee camp, Valentino lived in Kenya for several years and then moved to the United States.  What is the What blends fiction with Valentino’s account of his long and dangerous journey.

In 2006, Valentino created the Valentino Achak Deng Foundation and established Marial Bai’s first high school. Marial Bai is a village in Northern Sudan. The school opened in 2009 with a very limited budget and just 85 students. There is no lighting in the school and the children read by candlelight, but Valentino is determined to offer these children a quality education.

To raise money for Marial Bai Secondary School, Valentino is traveling around the United States hosting speaking events. If you are interested in hosting a dynamic and thought provoking speaker on campus and supporting Valentino’s dream of opening more schools to accommodate the thousands of children of Marial Bai, please visit the Valentino Achak Foundation website.

This Wikipedia article and this Washington Post article were used as background for this blog post.

This is it! Blitz Week at Rock the Vote

Post by Mike Kelly of Rock the Vote for the ADP blog.

This is it. We are down to the final days to register voters for the critical 2010 elections.

Voter registration deadlines start next Saturday and by Tuesday, October 5th, the window to register to vote will be closed in over half of the states in the country. (If you need to find a state’s voter registration deadline, please visit our interactive election center Electionland.)

That’s why we want to invite you to join our efforts to push online voter registration next week. It is Blitz Week at Rock the Vote!

You have your online voter registration tool and a community of people that need to have their voices heard in November. I hope you will make sure they are eligible to vote.

Here are two easy things you can do:

1. Send an email to your students. Through years of testing, we have found that the best messages are straightforward and simple. Let people know that the registration deadline is coming up (be precise about the date, if possible) and make sure they know that folks need to re-register at their current address if they have moved since the last time they registered. And, of course, include links to your voter registration tool.

2. Push the link to your voter registration tool on social networks like Facebook and Twitter . . . and urge your people to share the link to register their friends and family, too.

As always, you can check your progress, get your unique URL to use in emails and social network posts, get the code to put the widget on your website and more at this website.

If you have any questions, shoot us an email – – and we’ll get you what you need.



We know you want to vote.  And to vote with confidence.  But maybe people yelling at each other at town hall meetings, negative ads and TV shout-fests aren’t getting you the information you need to cast an informed ballot in the 2010 elections.

Well, we’re here to help.  We helped create Electionland as a one-stop shop for the 2010 elections — the place where you can ask and answer questions on everything related to elections in Washington state.  You can make sure you are registered to vote before the voter registration deadline.  You can ask questions about voting as a student or what to do if you have recently moved.  You have access to folks with big brains about what’s on the ballot. Candidates and experts will answer your questions directly.

It is the place to ask questions, provide answers or make comments on anything and everything around the election.

The Third Annual Civic Engagement Student Research Conference

Contact: Joe Corrado, Clayton State University

Students in the University System of Georgia are encouraged to develop an individually compelling sense of social and civic responsibility, community leadership and service to society.

To support this goal, Clayton State University, The New York Times, and the Southeast Region of the National Archives announce the Second Annual Student Research Conference on Civic Engagement to be held Friday March 25, 2010 from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm at the National Archives in Morrow, Georgia. Undergraduates and graduate students attending USG schools are invited to submit papers and panel-session proposals on the broad subject of civic engagement beyond the vote.  For more information contact Dr. Joe Corrado at

Clayton State University

Clayton State University, located in Morrow, GA, is a diverse master’s degree granting institution of the University System of Georgia. Our mission is to give students the knowledge and skills that they need to recognize and respond to the increasingly complex global context of contemporary life.

National Archives at Atlanta

The mission of the National Archives is to preserve the documentary legacy of our past, and the Southeast Region houses an extraordinary collection of documents created by Federal agencies in eight southeastern states. These documents depict the lives of well-known Americans, including John Marshall, Aaron Burr, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Wernher von Braun, as well as everyday people.  These documents have been preserved because they have continuing value for the necessary processes of government, provide protection of public and private rights, or contain useful information for researchers and the general public.

Students from the USG are invited to submit papers and panel-session proposals on any topic relating to engagement in politics in the community besides voting. Faculty may also submit papers and panel-session proposals from course assignments with the permission of their students. Research can include literary research and/or data collection. Possible topics include:

Civic Engagement Proposals: Contact Joe Corrado for more information about how to submit a proposal.

Not in Georgia, but like the idea? Consider hosting your own student research and civic engagement conference. Undergraduate research is a powerful way to encourage strong learning outcomes and perform valuable research for your communities. Giving students a venue to present this research is an excellent way to reinforce this pedagogical practice.

“We the People” – the Return of Citizen Voters Part 1

By Harry C. Boyte, Center for Democracy and Citizenship

We need to rise to the occasion of citizenship. The American Democracy Project can take the lead. In the words of the civil rights song, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

I thought about this during President Obama’s televised Town Hall meeting Monday night on CNBC, three days after September 17, Constitution Day.

The opening question set the tone. A middle-class mother of two, the chief financial officer of a veterans organization, expressed her disappointment.

“I’m exhausted of defending you, defending your administration, defending the mantle of change that I voted for, and deeply disappointed with where we are right now,” she said. “I have been told that I voted for a man who said he was going to change things in a meaningful way for the middle class. I’m one of those people, and I’m waiting, sir. I’m waiting. I don’t feel it yet.”

A young graduate of law school followed. ”Like a lot of people in my generation, I was really inspired by you and by your campaign and message that you brought, and that inspiration is dying away,” he said. “It feels like the American dream is not attainable to a lot of us.”

The president dutifully listed all the things that he and the administration had tried to do.  The media mavens said it wasn’t enough. “The president’s challenge is to restore confidence in his own leadership,” as Dan Blatz put it in the Washington Post.

No one mentioned the elephant in the room.

People didn’t vote for a man who said he was going to change things.  The country elected a president whose message was “yes we can.” This is the message of the Preamble to the Constitution.  The Preamble doesn’t say the president – or government — will solve our problems. It reads

We the people…in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States of America.

Before 1787, in the great arc of human history, governments were not seen as created by the people as the instrument of the people’s work. Governments were handed down from antiquity. They were established by kings. They were imagined as acts of nature.

It was a breathtaking and bold statement for our nation’s founders to say, “We the people” establish our government as our instrument.

This was precisely the message that Barack Obama ran on for president.

Announcing his campaign in Springfield, Ill., on Feb. 10, 2007, Barack Obama said, “This campaign has to be about reclaiming the meaning of citizenship, restoring our sense of common purpose.”  As he campaigned in the Iowa caucuses, he described his experiences as a community organizer. “In church basements and around kitchen tables, block by block, we brought the community together, fought for new jobs, and helped people live lives with some measure of dignity.”   During the campaign, a continuing message was that “active citizenship… will be a cause of my presidency.”

I kept thinking what a difference it would have made if one or two voters on Monday night had looked at the president, at journalists– and then turned to other voters and reminded the nation, we voted for “yes we can.”

At the Civic Agency Institute of the American Democracy Project on November 11-12 in Washington, I think we should discuss, plan, and strategize about how the students, faculty, and staff of our colleges and universities can join with libraries, community groups, and others to build a movement to reclaim our role as “we the people.”

Or, put differently, we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

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