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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Turning Truth into Power – Student Leaders Rally for Change in Washington D.C.

by Courtney-Rose Harris, NAACP Youth & College Social Network Specialist

The 2008 Presidential election season established young people as a powerful new force capable of yielding real change. Along with many other young people across the county, I organized for now President Barack Obama and other Presidential and local candidates, directly impacting the communities I worked in by registering new voters, empowering young people with information and getting voters to the polls on a grassroots level. As our nation heads into the 2012 election season, there’s no doubt that even more young people will need to step up and step out to ensure that our issues are heard.

Campus Progress, a national organization that works with and for young people to promote progressive solutions to key political and social challenges, held its 7th Annual National Conference on July 6th and 7th in Washington D.C. More than 1,000 young people convened at CPC to work towards real solutions for political, social and economic change.

The National Campus Progress Conference featured dynamic speakers, panels, caucuses and performances. Some of those presenters included: former U.S. President Bill Clinton; Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress Van Jones; United States Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius; National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling; Congressman Keith Ellison; Democracy Now! Host Amy Goodman; Spoken Word Artist StacyAnn Chin; Citizen Engagement Laboratory Senior Strategist Erica Williams; Center for American Progress President & CEO John Podesta; and Sierra Student Coalition National Director Quentin James.

Conference attendees engaged in meaningful dialogue around voting rights, the green jobs movement, job accessibility and mobility, race and the media and social media as a catalyst for social change.

During his plenary address, President Clinton reminded attendees of the importance of educating themselves on issues impacting their communities and the United States - using that knowledge to empower themselves and others, especially those groups who have been systemically and historically disenfranchised.

The second day of the conference, which hosted a smaller group of 120 student leaders, focused on how young people can build collective political power in the upcoming election season.

Heather Smith, President of Rock the Vote, passionately told attendees that “it is our job to make them [Congress] pay attention to us. We have to make sure that we are not letting other people make decisions for us.”

Recent University of Alabama graduate Edric Kirkman says that the conference helped him feel connected to a larger movement of community changers. “Those of us who showed up here today now have an obligation to go back to our campuses, our churches, our communities and organize,” Kirkman said. “If they [other students] could just hear what we’re hearing, just imagine how much power we can wield and how much we can change in our country.”

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