Temple Times Online Edition
    OCTOBER 21, 2004
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Forum to address voter ignorance, apathy

Craig Eisendrath, adjunct professor in American studies and a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy in Washington, D.C., co-organized “Making Democracy Work,” a conference examining problems in the American electoral process. Chanel Dennis, an undergraduate Honors student, will be participating in a panel on citizenship education.

Just in time for the election, the American studies program is sponsoring a conference on a growing crisis in our democracy: Fewer and fewer Americans understand the most urgent issues of the day or how our political system works. And fewer and fewer Americans, particularly young people, get out to the polls and vote.

Who’s to blame? Our educational system? The media? On Saturday, Oct. 23, at the National Constitution Center, “Making Democracy Work: A Conference on the Responsibilities of Citizenship in America” will bring together a group of leading scholars, activists and students to wrestle with those questions.

“In the 21st century, being a citizen of the United States requires a high level of awareness of public issues and a commitment to exercise the responsibilities of citizenship,” said conference co-organizer Craig Eisendrath, an adjunct professor in American studies and a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy in Washington, D.C. “We created this conference because we’re determined to boost voter turnout and literacy over the next 10 to 15 years.”

Eisendrath and Miles Orvell, director of the American studies program, have assembled an exciting group of panelists for the conference.

The first panel, on citizenship education, will be led by Chanel Dennis, an undergraduate Honors student at Temple, and Maris Vinovskis, a professor of history at the University of Michigan and a researcher at the Institute for Social Research. The panelists will explore how to improve political savvy and participation among students of all ages. Dennis, a senior majoring in political science and a member of Temple Student Government, will share her sobering experiences tutoring in the Philadelphia School District.

Leading a panel on the media will be Paul Waldman, editor-in-chief of the Internet magazine The Gadflyer and co-author of The Press Effect, and Susan Herbst, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and a leading scholar in the areas of politics, the media and public opinion. Waldman and Herbst will offer tips on how citizens can become more sophisticated media consumers and read between the lines of media political coverage.

The final panel will focus on citizen participation in the political process. Lewis Gordon, professor of philosophy and a renowned scholar of Africana thought, will discuss improving political participation among African Americans. Barbara Burgos DiTullio, director of the nonprofit WomenVote PA, will talk about improving political participation among women. And Miles Rapoport, president of Demos, a nonprofit working to improve electoral participation and civic engagement, will speak on informing and motivating voters.

After the panels, organizers have set aside an hour for discussion between the audience and the speakers.

“We must repossess the notion of citizenship as an obligation and standard in a democracy,” says Orvell, co-organizer of the event. “This conference is borne out of the frustration for these misplaced ideals. We’re hoping this is the beginning of a broader effort to promote voter awareness and turnout.”

“Making Democracy Work” will take place from 1 to 5:30 p.m. in Kirby Hall. The National Constitution Center is located at 11 S. Independence Mall. The conference is free and open to the public. (For parking, enter on Race Street, heading east, before Fifth Street; get sticker on parking ticket for reduced rate of $7. Pedestrians enter at 525 Arch St.)

- By Hillel J. Hoffmann