Young Americans know that many of the biggest issues they face—such as mounting college debt, growing income inequality, and the climate crisis—are exacerbated by the domination of big money in politics. At the 2019 National Citizen Leadership Conference in Washington D.C., more than 50 college students from around the nation helped launch the Cause of Our Time Statement of Principle, committing to join the movement to end the domination of big money in our political system. Here, two student leaders share why the issue of big money in politics is so important to them, their peers, and our nation.
Isabelle Pekarsky and Devin Hiett come from different states and are pursuing different majors, but both are concerned about the state of our democracy. Devin, a senior at the University of Oklahoma, is pursuing majors in international studies and journalism; Isabelle, a senior at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, is pursuing a political science major.
“The majority of my studies as a political science major revolve around our government, its history, and the ways in which citizens are key to our governmental process,” Isabelle says. “Although I love my major, it is clear we need a fundamental change in our system to restore our democracy to what it should be. The problematic role big money plays in hindering our democratic process is obvious.”
In Oklahoma, fellow students have told Devin they don’t feel they have a voice in the system specifically because of the role money plays in campaigns. This discourages young people from taking part in the political process, giving them less representation and leaving issues they care about unaddressed.
“I often hear my peers say they don’t see the point of engaging in the political system because they don’t feel they have the power or ability to make a difference because they lack financial capitol, which I find to be a gross miscarriage of justice,” Devin says. “America was founded on the notion that ‘we the people’ not ‘we the corporations’ govern our democracy, and classifying political spending by corporations as ‘free speech’ is disingenuous and threatens the very core of the democratic system.”
Devin adds that her work with Sally’s List, a nonpartisan organization that recruits women to run for office in Oklahoma, has shown her how big money forces can help keep entrenched politicians in the system.
“We will often meet a passionate teacher, nurse, or mother who wants to run for office but is too intimidated to launch a campaign because she knows the incumbent she would be challenging is backed by powerful PACs and corporate money,” Devin says. “Everyone should feel they have an equal opportunity to influence the outcomes of what were intended to be ‘free and fair elections,’ but this will never be a reality in America until our vote—rather than our checkbook—is what empowers us to be actively involved in our democracy.”
At the National Citizen Leadership Conference, Isabelle, Devin, and dozens of other college students signed the Cause of Our Time Statement of Principle, committing to advance the 28th Amendment to get big money out of politics and to recruit other students and young Americans to join them.
“After returning from NCLC, I’ve begun recruiting my fellow students at UMKC to join the movement of American Promise, and I have been sharing my experiences with them from the conference,” Isabelle says. “I am excited to attend the next Kansas City APA chapter meeting to share the things I learned and experienced. I cannot wait to get more involved in American Promise and work toward the 28th Amendment.”
Devin also plans to begin recruiting others to get involved, by launching an American Promise Association chapter in Oklahoma. “I am excited to mobilize my fellow students to support the 28th Amendment because I think we are at a critical time in American history where the younger voting generation is finally realizing how important their participation in the political system is, but they don’t know how to take the first step to mobilize and work for a better future,” Devin says. “I think starting an American Promise chapter in Oklahoma will give students an avenue to gain hands-on experience in shaping our democracy and empower us to get involved and stay involved.”