Democracy Camp

Inaugural (and outstanding!) Democracy Camp youth facilitators

A few years ago, we realized there are summer camps for just about everything in our country—except democracy.

YVote is changing that.

Why Democracy Camp?

Democracy Camp is an innovative program that treats young people not only as the future caretakers of our democracy, but also as the leaders building a more resilient and responsive democracy today.

Despite common misperceptions, young people are far from apathetic about American democracy. But they too often feel disconnected from it. Tufts’ CIRCLE has found that 57% of youth surveyed are losing faith in democracy and has noted that despite increased youth voter turnout in recent elections, doubts and distrust of American democracy may play a role in depressing the youth vote. While more than three-quarters of youth believe that young people have the power to change the country, fewer than half feel that they have the information, support, and opportunities to do so.

Democracy Camp creates what research shows will best provide young people with a foundation for a lifetime of civic engagement:

  • A community that offers social connections and a sense of belonging
  • An environment in which their voices, experiences, and wisdom are at the center, and where their ability to deliberate and make decisions about the common good is valued
  • The practical knowledge and skills to participate in politics and the ongoing process of building and nurturing democracy

Democracy Camp asks youth to own the future of American democracy, to design the path forward, and to grow their community of like-minded democracy builders.

You can see snapshots of the program below and meet our inaugural Democracy Campers here.

What can Democracy Campers expect?

Democracy Camp is co-planned with and facilitated by young people in local communities. During the week-long in-person intensive, Campers experience challenges participants to envision a democracy they think is worth fighting for and supports them in learning the skills they need to build it. Most importantly, a week at Democracy Camp serves as a launching pad for each participant’s lifetime of engagement and leadership in the process of building and nurturing democracy.

Democracy Camp engages diverse teens across New York City (and eventually the country) in:

  • Analyzing the history and current state of our democracy 
  • Investigating ways they can get involved in taking on challenges to it (for ex: around voting rights or shortcomings in access) 
  • Formulating Democracy Proposals to tackle the challenges they identified
  • Making recommendations to adults about how to work across differences in order to create inclusive civic solutions
  • Creating action plans to implement with peers over the following school year 

The above Camp experiences are designed with the following guiding questions in mind:

  • What is democracy? How do WE define it, and how do WE experience it in our lives? 
  • How can we make sense of the difference between democracy’s promise and our present realities?
  • How can we make democracy more resilient and responsive today and in the future?
  • What will it take to build a broader community of partners committed to democracy, both nationally and globally?

Through exploring these questions, participants develop and strengthen 21st century civic skills aligned with our Civic Skill Matrix, including critical thinking and research, respectful dialogue across differences, positive collaboration, effective writing and oral communication, and creative problem solving. Read inaugural Democracy Campers’ testimonies here.

“It’s an amazing opportunity where you can work with great facilitators and dwell in Democracy throughout the week. If you’re interested, even the slightest bit, in improving your community, school, or even certain policies, Democracy Camp  is the best place to start!” —Shreeya Thakur, 11th grade

How do Campers use what they learned?

When Democracy Camp ends, Campers have the option to work on a culminating action research project—known as Democracy Projects—during the school year. The action research project gives participants a chance to leverage the skills and knowledge gained at Camp and to act on a democracy-related issue they are passionate about.

During the school year, participants meet monthly for workshops about the research process and support in developing and completing their own research. The first few workshops focus on the principles of Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR), Data Collection, Research Methods, and effective project planning. Youth researchers also learn to set project goals and objectives, refine a research question, find credible sources for research/data collection, identify research methods that best match the scope of their project, analyze their data, present their findings, practice public speaking, and lead difficult discussions around heavy topics. 

Participants carry out their research during the fall semester. In the spring, the focus shifts to taking action. Some of the projects generated from last Summer 2022 Democracy Camp include: 

  • Creating and facilitating voter pre-registration events in schools
  • Canvassing NYC boroughs to collect opinions on public hygiene, in order to recommend actionable steps to effect change towards cleaner and safer neighborhoods for New Yorkers 
  • Creating plans and mini lessons to help school administration incorporate media literacy learning into the school’s curriculum 
  • Leveraging the use of a school’s black student union to increase black student support and comfortability by planning a school-wide table talk to discuss “Blackness in the Classroom” and “ AntiBlackness among other Minority Groups” in an effort to give black youth voices in their school a chance to be heard
  • Creating a social media platform with the intention of increasing civic engagement by making topics in politics and civics accessible to their peers and other youth of color
  • Examining how income inequality can have a profound impact on the functioning of a democratic society and undermine the democratic process by allowing the wealthy to influence political decisions through campaign contributions, lobbying efforts, and other means

“Democracy Camp is a great introduction to democracy and the current state of America in democracy. It’s a great way to discuss serious issues that are typically not taught in school, explore leadership roles and advocate for better democracy.” —Sumaiya Sayeed, 12th grade

How can I get involved?

Applications for the second annual NYC-based Democracy Camp will open in April 2023.

YVote/Next Gen sees Democracy Camp as an integrative focal point for our work, drawing upon and amplifying existing initiatives while ideally creating a scalable model that could be implemented by others across the city and country. We aim to build upon this each year, ideally going national in 2023 and 2024 as well as demonstrating a model that could ideally be run by partners in many other contexts. A request for partnerships will be shared soon.

Questions? Contact Sanda at [email protected].