DEBATING FOR DEMOCRACY 2013 LEGISLATIVE HEARING

REQUEST FOR LETTERS TO AN ELECTED OFFICIAL

Overview:

Debating for Democracy (D4D)™ is a distinctive campus-based co-curricular program that represents the mission of Project Pericles (www.projectpericles.org) in action. On each campus, Periclean students research, develop, and advocate their opinions and positions on current public policy issues.  The primary goal of D4D is to inspire and encourage all participants to become successful and resourceful advocates in their community.

On March 21 and 22, 2013, student leaders from each of the participating Periclean colleges and universities are invited to attend the 2013 D4D National Conference at Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts in New York City. The conference will consist of workshops, keynote addresses, and panel discussions that will introduce the students to leading figures in civic engagement, education, environment, politics, public policy, and social entrepreneurship. One of the activities at the national conference will be a legislative hearing. The legislative hearing will allow students the opportunity to discuss their policy ideas with a panel of current and former elected officials and other public policy experts. 

To participate in the legislative hearing and to encourage students to write their elected officials, Project Pericles is requesting an original letter to an elected official from groups (two or more students) at Periclean colleges and universities. Five of these letters from five different colleges will be selected by a panel of judges to be presented at the legislative hearing. The two lead authors of the five finalist letters will travel to New York to present and defend their letter and its subject at the legislative hearing.

Eligibility:

In order to be eligible to participate in the legislative hearing and attend the D4D National Conference, a student must a) be a full-time undergraduate at one of the Periclean campuses; b) be a freshman, sophomore, or junior as defined by their college or university; and c) write and mail a letter to an elected official.  Students selected to participate in the legislative hearing must be a freshman, sophomore, or junior during the Spring 2013 semester and be returning to their campus for the 2013-14 year.

Selection Process:

Students must submit their letter to their Project Pericles Program Director by Wednesday, January 30, 2013. The Program Director will review each letter and select the four strongest letters to forward to Project Pericles. Each college must email their package (Word or PDF) of up to four letters to Jan Liss jan.liss@projectpericles.org  by 5 pm EST on Monday, February 4. The names of all of the students who worked on each letter must be sent to Project Pericles with the two students who played the leading roles in preparing each letter clearly identified. These students must be able to attend the conference in New York City on March 21 and 22. All letters should be mailed by the students to the appropriate elected official by February 4.

A committee consisting of people with significant experience in public policy will review the submitted letters using the criteria below. Based on this review, Project Pericles staff will select the five finalist teams. By February 15, the announcement of the five finalist teams will be shared with the Periclean campuses. Project Pericles will contact the two students from the five finalist teams to arrange for them to attend the National Conference on March 21 and 22.

Judging Criteria:

The evaluation of each letter will rest on the students’ success at conducting high quality policy analysis and research; clarity of presentation; and adherence to the rules detailed in the Letter to an Elected Official Guidelines (pages 3-4). The five letters that do the best job of meeting the following criteria will be selected to be presented at the legislative hearing: 

1) Policy Analysis and Research: The most important aspect of the letter is the quality of the analysis and research, which determines 80% of the evaluation. The evaluation will rest on each team’s success at identifying a federal or state policy problem in their letter, proposing a solution to the problem they identified, and conducting and interpreting research to bolster their letter.

  • Does the letter identify one public policy problem to be addressed and explain how this problem impacts the students?
  • Does the letter recommend one legislative solution? Is the legislative solution feasible economically and politically?
  • Does the letter contain logical judgment and analysis?
  • Does the letter focus on a federal or state public policy issue that impacts the students and their community?
  • Does the proposal demonstrate the use of primary and/or secondary resources to bolster their argument?
  • Does the letter demonstrate an understanding of the historical context of the problem and solution being discussed?

2) Clarity of Presentation: Although the ability of the students to prepare a letter that meets all of the criteria discussed in the previous section is important, the clarity of the letter will also be considered. This section is worth 20% of the total evaluation. 

  • Is the written material clear and grammatically correct?
  • Is the letter effective in communicating the significance of the problem and the solution?

Award:

  • The ten lead authors from the five finalist teams most responsible for writing each of the five letters will attend the 2013 D4D National Conference at Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts in New York. Project Pericles will pay for the transportation, hotel, and meals for the ten students.
  • Project Pericles will provide a $3,000 award to the students at the college that submits the best letter to an elected official as determined by the panel of judges during the legislative hearing. In consultation with Project Pericles, the students can use this money to fund advocacy and education activities including lobbying trips and workshops. Teams that have won this award in the past have travelled to Washington, D.C. to meet with Members of Congress and their staffs to discuss the issues raised in their letters.  The four semi-finalist teams will each receive a $500 award to fund advocacy and education activities including lobbying trips and workshops.
  • Project Pericles staff will work with the winning team and the semi-finalist teams to develop their advocacy and education activities.

LETTER TO AN ELECTED OFFICIAL GUIDELINES

“Letters are an extremely effective way of communicating with your elected officials. Many legislators believe that a letter represents not only the position of the writer but also many other constituents who did not take the time to write.” American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

Many federal and state policy issues are suitable for this letter. Possible issues include:
Campaign Finance* Climate Change * Federal Budget Deficit * Funding for Higher Education (Grants and Loans)* Gun Control * Immigration * K-12 Education * Pension Reform *U.S. Involvement in Middle East

In the letter, students must identify one national or state public policy problem to be addressed and analyze how this problem impacts them personally, people in their community, people in their state, and, if a federal issue, people across the United States. In the letter, students must recommend at least one legislative solution. The students may recommend an original legislative solution (fund a NASA mission to Jupiter) or they can support or oppose a portion of a bill that is currently pending before Congress or their state legislature. In both cases, the students must support their solution with data and examples from at least two outside sources (books, journals, reliable internet sources) and discuss why their solution is better than other options. All outside research must be properly cited.

Basic Letter Writing Tips

The first step in writing a letter to an elected official is to identify the student’s elected official and their address. Since they will be urging their elected official to support or oppose a legislative solution, they will want to select the official who will be most responsive to their letter. The following website will help them identify their federal or state elected officials.  http://www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml

The student must address the letter correctly.

The letter must begin with the phrase "Dear Representative (last name)" or Dear Senator (last name)".

The letter should begin with a sentence that tells the elected official exactly what the student wants them to do. The first sentence in the letter on page 5 provides an example.

The letter should contain the student’s mailing address so that the elected official can confirm them as a constituent and the elected official can write back.

The student must sign and date their letter.

Guidelines: All letters must meet the following guidelines:

No student who participated in a previous D4D National Conference can be selected as a student delegate unless their letter to an elected official is selected for the legislative hearing.

Student delegates who presented in a previous legislative hearing cannot be chosen as student delegates or submit a letter to an elected official.

No student can co-author more than one letter.

The body of the letter may not exceed 1000 words (excluding footnotes). 

All primary and secondary sources used in preparing the proposal must be cited.

The letter must be on a state or federal issue. Letters on local issues will not be eligible. The majority of local issues are also important federal and state issues.
(guidelines continued on next page)

Two or more students must work on the letter.

A copy of the letter must be mailed to each student’s elected official by February 4, 2013.