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‘Boot camp’ to train student infantry

Contributing Writer
Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Boot camp is coming to Brown — but without the barbed wire and ropes course.

Later this month, the Rhode Island Student Political Boot Camp will offer three days of speakers and training sessions about campaign organization, “progressive networking” and other political topics for all interested college students in the state.

The event, “structured around building connections and sharing knowledge between Rhode Island college students to advance the progressive agenda,” is scheduled for Nov. 19-21, and will feature political speakers and trainers who will discuss ways to enter the world of progressive politics, according to its website.

Though hosted at Brown, the event is open to students of all Rhode Island colleges. “We’ve been e-mailing student leaders on other campuses,” said Samantha Powell ’13. “We have a liaison on each campus.” Powell is a Brown liaison from the Rhode Island Youth Empowerment campaign, an organization that is working with Brown student group Democracy Matters to organize the boot camp.

“It has two goals essentially,” said Daniel Goldberg, ’13, a member of Democracy Matters. The first goal is “to unite, bring together lots of Rhode Island students.” The second is “to give everyone who comes a really solid set of activism skills,” Goldberg said.

Mayor of Providence David Cicilline ’83, R.I. General Treasurer candidate Gina Raimondo, R.I. Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts, Providence mayoral candidate Angel Taveras and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse will all bring extensive Ocean State political experience to the conference.

Events featuring the speakers include a kick-off dinner, a keynote panel and a Casual Networking with RI Leaders session. These sessions will offer students an inside and intimate view of politics, activism and advice on how to become involved.

In addition to the speeches, boot camp participants will attend training sessions led by professionals in a wide variety of political fields, such as campaign management and online political organizing. Matt Blizek, the national Field Director at Democracy for America, and Professor Barbara Tannenbaum, who teaches courses in public speaking and persuasive communication in the Department of Theatre, Speech and Dance, will lead workshops during the conference. Xay Khamsyvoravong, Frank Caprio’s gubernatorial campaign manager, will also be a trainer at the event.

“We went and found (the trainers) ourselves,” said Caroline Dean, ’11, also a Brown liaison from the Rhode Island Youth Empowerment Campaign, adding that all of the trainers are unpaid participants.

Conference attendees will gain insight into topics ranging from “Start Your Local Campaign Now!” to “Messaging, Presentation & Public Speaking: How to develop a message or frame issues for campaigns or organizations,” according to the website. Roberts and Cicilline will participate in a panel on diversity in Rhode Island politics.

The concept of a progressive political boot camp is not unique to Brown. Similar training camps have been provided for the general public across the country by an organization called Democracy For America. “We provide campaign training, organizing resources, and media exposure so our members have the power to support progressive issues and candidates up and down the ballot,” according to the organization’s website. The Brown student-group Democracy Matters is not affiliated with Democracy For America, Dean said.

The Democracy For America training sessions are not free though. The Rhode Island Student Political Bootcamp offers many of the same features as the Democracy for America conference without cost.

In addition to free registration, online registration is available for students interested in participating in the boot camp — “just name and e-mail address,” Goldberg said.

“We don’t intend for it to be capped,” said Goldberg, noting that the event has the capacity for 1,000 students.

“We wanted to make it open to everyone, ” Powell said. “I don’t think it’s ever been done for students for free where you don’t have to apply.”

The event has been in the works since the summer, according to Dean, who said Grant Gilles ‘10.5, another liaison from the Empowerment campaign, “formulated some of this over the summer.” Gilles has been extremely politically active in his years at Brown, Dean said.

The event is being made possible thanks to several generous donors, Dean explained.

“It’s a really great opportunity,” she said. “(It’s) a one-step place to get the tools a student needs.”

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