Political Activist Group Stirs Up Campus

Cady Kuzmich, Columnist
Andonal Foyle has always been interested in how young people can impact history. Foyle, NBA star, poet and activist, decided to use his earnings to make an impact himself. He and his parents, Joan and Jay Mandle, founded Democracy Matters in 2001, in an effort to change the way elections are run in America. Democracy Matters is a non-partisan organization run on campuses across the nation, including right here at SUNY Oneonta. Joan Mandle, executive director of Democracy Matters, is working with college students, including Oneonta’s own Eileen Austin and Ian Kenyon, to try to change the way campaigns are funded.
Mandle emphasized how elections impact all of us, saying, “We’re all in this together. We deserve a government that listens to us. We can get one but we have to work for it.” As the fight over increasing tuition continues and the struggle over fracking in the Southern Tier rages on, it’s important to make sure our representatives actually represent us and not big corporations. According to Mandle, Democracy Matters will work to lessen the influence of big money on elections so that those in office listen to their constituents rather than big corporations.
When asked what advice she had for college students looking to pursue work in politics after graduation, Mandle said with a laugh, “They better work for fair elections so they can afford to run for office!”
Mandle pointed out that seven billion dollars went into the last presidential election. She went on to say, “With that much money around, people will do irresponsible things. We are going to change the way campaigns are funded so ordinary people who aren’t as wealthy can run as well.”
Democracy Matters stands behind the Fair Elections bill, supported by many, including Governor Andrew Cuomo. The Fair Elections bill would help get big money out of the political system. It would create a way for any New York citizen to run for office without having to depend on wealthy contributors who may expect something in return.
Today, candidates running for office must rely heavily on wealthy contributors. Believe it or not, these wealthy contributors aren’t funding campaigns out of the goodness of their hearts; they have an agenda. When campaigns are being funded by wealthy contributors and big corporations, it’s important to take a step back and ask whose interests the candidates really represent.
The way campaigns are funded makes it virtually impossible for anyone strapped for cash to run for office. Potentially great leaders could be denied the opportunity to run for office, all depending on their bank statements and whether they’re willing to work closely with big corporations.
“Campaigning doesn’t pay,” says Ian Kenyon. Skyrocketing student debt and a struggling economy aren’t exactly great incentives for young people to seek work in public service. When you pair the current economic crisis with the insane amount of money needed to fund a campaign, recent graduates may be wary about pursuing a career in public service.
Eileen Austin and Ian Kenyon had the chance to spend a day lobbying in Albany with Democracy Matters. Kenyon commented on how our society tends to put politicians on pedestals, but how in reality, politicians are actually quite accessible. The two were able to walk right into the legislative buildings and talk to staffers for their representatives, gaining real world connections.
Democracy Matters is made up of an ideologically diverse group of students, so don’t hesitate to check it out no matter your ideological background.

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