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Interview with Neesha Tambe, intern for The Democracy Commitment

The American Democracy Project is helping to launch a new partner and parallel civic engagement initiative for our community college colleagues called The Democracy Commitment, or “TheDC.” TheDC debuted at the ADP 2011 national meeting in Orlando last month, and currently has 24 member institutions, representing over 40 individual campuses. Neesha Tambe is helping to get TheDC off the ground while serving as an intern here at AASCU. This interview introduces Neesha as she offers her perspective on TheDC and its important role in ensuring that higher education assists all students in becoming informed, engaged citizens.

Neesha Tambe

Born and raised in the Silicon Valley/Bay Area, Neesha A. Tambe has spent her entire life in California in one of the most diverse communities in the nation. She graduated in June from De Anza Community College and will enroll as a junior at Georgetown University, studying sociology with a concentration in social justice. Having been heavily involved on campus at De Anza, Neesha served Executive Vice President of the Student Body representing roughly 25,000 students of varied backgrounds and experiences. She also spent six months as a Congressional Intern for her Representative (Honda, CA-15) and was the lead student organizer for a local campaign to support the Foothill – De Anza (FHDA) Community College District.

Neesha Tambe

Although she is not sure exactly what the future holds for her, Neesha plans to synthesize the many voices and needs of the people to create policy that better serves the youth in the country, with an emphasis on the use of dialogue versus debate. In addition to her organizing and activism, Neesha is a classically trained Pointé dancer and has practiced more than 10 different styles of dance, Indian and Western. Neesha is very excited to be working to launch The Democracy Commitment this summer, and looks forward to empowering the next generation of informed and engaged citizens.


American Democracy Project (ADP): How did you get involved with TheDC?

Neesha A. Tambe (NAT): I walked into an Introduction to Sociology lecture on the first day of college at De Anza College, only to hear the professor bluntly state, “The American Dream does not exist.” As a native Californian, born to immigrant parents who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, I was floored by his statement. Soon, however, I began to understand that many people – especially young people – experience a great disconnect with our government, and I became seriously concerned about the future of our democracy.

In an effort to participate in the system and protect the interests of my fellow students, I decided to run for and was elected as the Executive Vice President of the De Anza Associated Student Body Senate. Along with the Student Body President and the student leaders before us who laid the foundation, we worked through the year to foster sustainable activism throughout the student body, organizing both in the college itself as well at the statewide level.

After my experience as a lead student organizer for a campaign to locally fund the FHDA Community College District, my training in Wellstone Action, and my participation in Asian Pacific American Leadership Institute (APALI), I learned about the American Democracy Project and the intention to found a parallel national initiative that would foster community colleges’ efforts to cultivate informed, engaged citizens for our democracy. When Dr. Murphy, the President of De Anza College, asked if I would be interested in interning in Washington, DC for The Democracy Commitment, I jumped at the opportunity to do my part in ensuring the health of our democratic nation.

ADP: Tell us more about what you’re working on as the Summer Intern for TheDC?

NAT: This summer, will be a very busy time for The Democracy Commitment as we launch the national community college initiative to foster community and civic engagement on campuses. Over the course of six short weeks, I will be working to develop the organization’s internal and external communication structures and processes; produce a basic social media toolkit and plan; delineate and identify key project processes (including a welcome process); generate a formal expansion plan; create a wiki; and begin to develop national networks and partnerships. Also, I will be preparing for the TheDC’s National Signatory Event on November 4, 2011 at The New York Times.

ADP:  What do you see as the relationship between TheDC and ADP?

NAT:   As over 50% of the students from AASCU institutions matriculate from community colleges, I see the partnership between The Democracy Commitment and ADP as integral to the sustainable development of students as informed and engaged citizens. Students who have community and civic engagement training from community colleges can get lost in the shuffle as they transition to a four year institution. We plan to build a pathway between community college students and ADP/AASCU institutions so as to continue and build upon the development of the students. I believe that ADP’s experience and network are essential to the successful launch of TheDC, but that through joint programming and information sharing, TheDC will also inform and strengthen ADP.

ADP:  What are your hopes for the future – in terms of TheDC and youth civic engagement more broadly?

NAT:   In terms of TheDC, we hope to change the perception of community colleges from vocational and transfer institutions to colleges dedicated to creating the next generation of informed and engaged citizens prepared to protect and defend the health of our country. It is so essential for youth to know that we do in fact have a say in our country and that our voices matter.

It is my desire to see youth civic engagement integrated into the very core of education. It is often said that youth are apathetic about becoming involved in their communities, but this apathy does not come from the idea that being civically involved isn’t important; it comes from the feeling that what we have to say doesn’t matter and will never make a difference. But it can, and it does. I believe that TheDC can empower students to know that we can make a difference, and that we have the power to change the world.

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