Democracy Matters founder visits campus, stresses importance of political involvement

Geneseo’s chapter of Democracy Matters hosted a discussion panel in which the organization’s founder, associate professor of sociology and anthropology at Colgate University Joan Mandle and Geneseo Ella Cline Shear School of Education professor Jane Fowler Morse on Wednesday Nov. 5 spoke. During this panel, the topics of education, fair elections, financial issues and more were brought up and later discussed during a question and answer period. Morse began the panel by discussing the topic of education and its relation to politics, emphasizing the fact that the United States has no national education clause while many Western European countries have these clauses.

Other topics of discussion were the problems with the No Child Left Behind Act and President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top initiative, as well as the fact that many education-based decisions are made by corporations, rather than people with backgrounds in education.

After Morse spoke, Mandle took the floor, focusing her discussion on the importance of fair elections and the large role monetary backing plays in today’s elections.

“Yesterday’s election was the most expensive midterm election ever,” Mandle said, noting that congressional candidates spent around $4 billion, but only about 30 percent of eligible people voted.

She then explained that less than 1 percent of Americans fund all election campaigns, leading to political bias.

“When they contribute that kind of money they want something back, and political figures, whether they want to or not, have to raise lots and lots of money,” Mandle said. “Money decides who wins and who loses, and does in every single race.”

It is this reason she and other members of Democracy Matters find it important to have fair elections.

“In [the United States] Congress, the Fair Elections Act has been introduced to give congressional candidates a way to run competitive races without depending on big corporate-based and wealthy donors,” Democracy Matters explains on its website

Mandle emphasized that while things seem dim now––with many high school students she spoke to at an earlier event describing politicians as “liars, corrupt and no good”––there is also good news.

“There’s stuff you can do, there really is,” Mandle said, urging students to become active in seeking change in the government, especially regarding fair elections.

She used the Climate March in New York City, the push for marriage equality and the recent actions of the Tea Party movement as examples of people creating change within the government.

With the election having just passed, Mandle realized that this coupled with the broken state of the political system might leave students discouraged when it comes to fighting for change, which is why she urges them to start with a topic they are passionate about.

“You have to pay attention to political organizations that are focused on issues,” she said. “The election is over but all those issues that affect you are going to be legislative this year.”

“Somebody is going to decide what Geneseo’s tuition it going to be next year,” Mandle added. “That doesn’t happen at the election, that happens after.”

Mandle, however, is optimistic about the changes students will make in politics, especially regarding Geneseo. She cited it as one of the best of the 55 Democracy Matters chapters nationwide.

“I loved it, it was great,” Mandle said of the panel. “Geneseo is a campus that we’ve had Democracy Matters in for I think eight years and each group does a great job of mentoring younger students so they take over after the older students graduate.”