Debating for Democracy (D4D)™

Debating for Democracy (D4D)™ is a distinctive campus-based program that represents the mission of Project Pericles in action. D4D promotes civic engagement and effective advocacy skills among a wide range of students. Through D4D on the Road™ workshops hosted on Periclean campuses, the D4D National Conference in New York City, the D4D Letters to an Elected Official Competition, and co-curricular programs on each campus, students acquire the tools and tactics they need to advance their issues and to get their messages across to elected officials, fellow students, community groups, and the media.

Students have done important work including:

  • A Bates College student testified before the Maine Legislature about the need to provide aid for asylum-seekers (the Bates team wrote about this topic as part of the D4D Letters to an Elected Official competition). The Bates team is creating a public service announcement to give Mainers an introduction to the stories of asylum-seekers.
  • Carleton College students ran youth empowerment workshops for local high school students, who went on to develop an active school reform campaign of their own.
  • Many groups of students have had meetings with their elected officials and congressional staff members in their home states and in Washington, D.C.
  • Students have developed campaigns in support of the DREAM ACT, mountaintop-removal coal mining, Net Neutrality, and the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), among others.


The D4D on the Road™ workshops hosted at Periclean colleges and universities provide training in leadership development, media strategy, coalition building, and effective messaging. In addition to their own students and staff, hosting Periclean campuses around the country welcome students from other local colleges and universities as well as community members. Using our carefully designed model, advocacy experts empower students, faculty, staff, and community members to advance their particular issue or cause. Participants learn advocacy skills that can be applied to a variety of issues and situations, including stakeholder identification, pending legislation analysis, and strategic planning. Participants identify new strategies for making change, practice developing and delivering an effective advocacy message, and build relationships to support and sustain their work.

Since 2008, Project Pericles has trained more than 3,400 participants at Periclean colleges and universities across the United States. All of the Periclean campus have participated in D4D on the Road. Through these day-long workshops participants learn to work within the democratic processes to improve the condition of society. Utilizing a series of dynamic exercises, participants learn strategies for developing effective messages, critically analyzing the opposition's messages, and the importance of thoroughly understanding their target audiences.   

Project Pericles appreciates the generous support of The Spencer Foundation, the Eugene M. Lang Foundation and our Periclean colleges and universities for supporting the 2015-2016 D4D on the Road workshops. Previous funders have included the Henry Luce Foundation.


At the D4D National Conference, student leaders from Periclean campuses across the country are joined by college presidents, faculty, foundation representatives, government officials, community leaders, and members of the media to participate in a series of panels and workshops with leading experts on civic engagement, education, the environment, journalism, social entrepreneurship, and public policy.

The National Conference features a Legislative Hearing in which teams of students compete for $5,000 in prize money that is used to develop advocacy and educational campaigns around critical issues. Project Pericles designed the conference to provide students with concrete steps they can take to move the issue they wrote about, and other issues, forward. Student are encouraged and expected to return to their campuses to advance civic and political engagement among their classmates.

The 2017 D4D National Conference, our seventh, was hosted by Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts in New York City, March 30-31. Prior to the conference, all student attendees, in teams, wrote Letters to an Elected Official, on pressing policy issues that they care deeply about. The letters discussed pressing social issues and innovative policy solutions to them. Some of these issues focused on immigration and sanctuary cities, cleaning drinking water and environmental racism, and access to higher education and healthy foods.

At the conference, we heard from many young people who eloquently described their struggles for social justice. The conference provided delegates an opportunity to discuss their issues with fellow students from other Periclean campuses from around the country, to exchange insights, and to gain strength from solidarity with fellow activists and student leaders. There were two interactive workshops, the Legislative Hearing, and four panels on Social Action, Media and Reporting in an Age of Partisanship, Mobilization, and the Role of Non-profits. Following the last panel, students ended the conference with a visit to these New York City based nonprofits: Community Voices Heard, Friends of the High Line, Harlem Grown, "I Have a Dream" Foundation, and Museum at Eldridge Street/A Landmark Synagogue Story. 

Conference presenters have included:

  • Phil Aroneanu, US Managing Director and Co-Founder, 350.org
  • Emily Badger, Staff Writer, The Washington Post
  • Carol Browner, former EPA Administrator
  • Jeffrey Clements, Author of Corporations Are Not People
  • Ami Dar, Founder and Executive Director, Idealist.org
  • Thomas J. Downey, former U.S. Congressman (D-NY)
  • Rajeev K. Goyal, author of The Springs of Namje: A Ten-Year Journey from the Villages of Nepal to the Halls of Congress
  • Jacob S. Hacker, author of Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer--and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class
  • Nancy Kassebaum Baker, former U.S. Senator (R-KS)
  • Bob Kerrey, former U.S. Senator (D-NE) and former Governor of Nebraska
  • Arthur Levine, President, Woodrow Wilson Foundation
  • Michael S. McPherson, President, Spencer Foundation
  • Constance Berry Newman, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs
  • Pedro Noguera, Professor of Teaching and Learning, New York University
  • Kurt L. Schmoke, former Mayor of Baltimore, MD
  • Ben Smith, Editor-in-Chief, BuzzFeed
  • Harris L. Wofford, former U.S. Senator (D-PA) 

The very first D4D National Conference (in 2008) was funded by the Christian A. Johnson Endeavour Foundation.


The D4D Letter to an Elected Official Competition engages students around public policy issues, the political process, and with their elected officials. Since 2008, hundreds of teams from all Periclean colleges and universities have participated in this competition. Every year, a panel of judges with significant legislative experience select the five winning letters written by teams of students from Periclean campuses. Project Pericles awards prizes to the winning student teams to support their efforts to move their issue forward locally and nationally. In addition to the letter to an elected official, this year we asked students to share a project proposal about how they would use their award.

The letters proposed innovative solutions on a wide variety of issues ranging from implementing food waste management systems at the national level to advocating for financial literacy services for struggling families, to supporting redistricting to ensure equal access to a quality education in the state of Pennsylvania. These letters were sent to elected officials throughout the United States.

One of the legislative committee members wrote: "Judging the quality of each team at the Legislative Hearing was extraordinarily challenging for all of us because the students were so well prepared. It was truly inspirational!" Another added: "The students were impressive and their presentations quite spectacular."

We look forward to working with the winning and finalist teams of the 2017 D4D Letters to an Elected Official competition throughout the 2017-2018 academic year:

Berea College, "A Letter in Support of the Safe Drinking Water Act (H.R. 417) and an Amendment to Require the Improvement of Consumer Confidence Reports and Stabilize Funding for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund" to Representative John Yarmuth (D-KY) by Danielle Graves and Kerringtan Maddox

Carleton College, "A Letter in Opposition to the Defense of Dwelling and Person Act of 2017 (H.F. 238)" (known as the Stand Your Ground Bill) to Minnesota State Senator Rich Draheim (R) by Naomi Borowsky, Victor Huerta, Matt Thibodeau, and Allison Tucker

Pace University, "A Letter in Support of Amending the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act to Protect the Hudson and Other American Rivers from the Unwarranted Expansion of Commerce in Bakken Oil" to Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) by Rowan Lanning and Christina Thomas

Reed College, "A Letter in Support of the Safe Transfer Act" (would require post-secondary institutions to disclose sex offenses on students' transcripts) to Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) by Leilani Ganser and Sonya Morud

Swarthmore College, "A Letter in Support of Funding Online Access to College Courses for Rural Pennsylvania High School Students" to Pennsylvania State Representative Leanne Kruger-Braneky (D) by Elizabeth Balch-Crystal and Charles Williamson