Participation Matters: A Brief History of Student Movements and Participatory Democracy

by Adia Davis 

Activism on college campuses is not new, in fact, it has been around for decades.  One of the most inspiring times for student activism was during the 1960s and early 1970s as social and political issues came to the forefront of the national conversation.  Following is a quick look at two student groups that were especially influential at the time, and what we as engaged students and citizens can learn from them today.

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee

The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) emerged in April 1960 as the youth faction of the civil rights group The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).  SNCC felt that the SCLC was out of touch with the views of the younger generation, and thus, formed its own ideological framework and started an independent movement.  The first meeting was held at Shaw University in Raleigh, NC in April 1960.  The meeting was led by civil rights activist and Shaw alumna, Ella Baker.  Inspiration for the founding came after the Greensboro, NC Lunch Counter Sit-ins.  SNCC decided to use the momentum from the sit-ins to gain traction for its own movement.  The group started with 200 members at its first meeting, but soon sprang into a large movement with chapters all over the country, especially in the South.

SNCC’s activism focused on mobilizing local communities.  The group believed in participatory democracy and many of their efforts highlighted this.  From its founding, SNCC promoted non-violent civil disobedience and wanted to not just achieve integration, but social change more broadly. SNCC helped to organize voter registration efforts, sit-ins, the March on Washington in 1963, and the Freedom Rides.  After an ideological split between key members as well as more radical leanings among some, the original group changed its name to the Student National Coordinating Committee in 1969. The group disbanded altogether in 1976.

Students for a Democratic Society

Another student group that was active around the time was Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).  Founded in 1960, SDS had its first meeting at the University of Michigan and elected Alan Haber as its first president.  In 1962 at the first SDS convention, there were fewer than 100 members but over the years, the group gained traction.  By 1969, there were approximately 100,000 SDS members and over 66 chapters on different college campuses across the country.  This astounding membership growth can be attributed to an explosion of support surrounding SDS’s anti-war agenda.

In 1962, the group released The Port Huron Statement, a political manifesto.  The manifesto focused on participatory democracy, and along with it, nonviolent civil disobedience.  The Statement criticized racial discrimination, economic inequality, and political systems that failed to maintain peace. Living up to its slogan, “the issues are interrelated,” SDS also focused on an anti-Vietnam agenda and to some extent, feminist activism, among other things. SDS focused on “pragmatic activity that made sense to students – protests, demonstrations, sit-ins and marches.”[1]  One of the group’s pivotal achievements was its anti-war demonstration in Washington, DC in 1965, where it was able to assemble 25,000 protestors.  Similar to SNCC, SDS experienced splits in ideology.  Some of its key members also adapted more radical viewpoints.  Not being able to resolve its issues, SDS eventually disbanded in 1969.

SDS and SNCC in conversation

What is clear from these movements is the great opportunity organizations have to learn from one another.  Although the two organizations were founded around the same time, SDS found great inspiration from SNCC. The two groups which were both focused on an intersection of issues, worked together at times.  As former SDS president Tom Hayden, stated, “we were all influenced by Ella Baker, an elder advisor to SNCC…she spoke and personified participatory democracy.” He then went on to say, “SNCC played a direct role in shaping my values, as it did with many SDS founders. SNCC’s early organizing method was based on listening to local people and taking action on behalf of their demands.”[2]

What can we learn from this early activism?

A common theme among both SDS and SNCC was the idea of participatory democracy.  According to Todd Gitlin, another former president of SDS, participatory democracy can be defined as “a public committed to making the decisions that affect their own lives, with institutions to make this possible.”[3]  In practice, this approach leads to an involved citizenship that makes contributions to directly address social and political issues that are important to us instead of only waiting for action through elected representatives. Participatory democracy is about making sure everyone’s voice is heard.  As we go through our own lives as college students, it is important to remember that there are a variety of unique ways in which we can work to directly impact the issues most important to us.

Intersectionality, the idea that different forms of oppression are interconnected, was another important part of both SDS and SNCC that students today can learn from.  While both groups looked at the broader social contexts of the issues they focused on, SDS especially saw different social issues as interrelated.  Both organizations also knew to not isolate their movements.  They understood that they could gain valuable resources and knowledge from working together, especially when their goals overlapped.  Especially today, as intersectionality is an ever present part of the dialogue on activism, it can be helpful to reflect on a couple of the places where it took root.





[3] Smithsonian Magazine

Kat Shaub, Housing Fellow

Kat Shaub

Kat Shaub serves as the 2017-2018 as the community-based housing fellow.

What do you do as the Housing Fellow?

I volunteer full time for a local nonprofit called Housing Partnerships.  I am the volunteer coordinator, coordinating both local and student volunteers.  I am also the assistant program manager for our emergency home repair program.

How do you see your work affecting the Williamsburg community?

The repairs that we do are really a band-aid.  The more meaningful work comes from connecting volunteers and community members who wouldn’t otherwise meet each other. Also, when we have someone come in, they know that there is someone to support them and that they don’t have to do it alone.  Even if we can’t fix the problem long term, we can take some of their stress away.

What have you learned from your time as the housing fellow?

I have learned a lot about how giving the city of Williamsburg and surrounding counties are.  There are so many organizations and they all work together which means the cracks that people can fall through are smaller.  People really care about others here and not just about having a job or a title.

Why would you recommend this fellowship?
Not only do you get to learn nonprofit management, operations and career building skills, but you also get to work with people and do something that is centered on people.  That’s really important because at the end of the day if you’re not helping other people, what are you really doing?

Are there any particular moments or stories from the year that have been especially meaningful to you?
I took four football players to put up a moisture barrier at a woman’s home. They made a point of going to her home, introducing themselves, and doing more than just the volunteer work. They took the time to recognize they were part of the community they were volunteering in.

Williamsburg Farmers’ Market

An Interview with Tracy Herner, Williamsburg Farmers’ Market Manager 
By Adia Davis, OCE Communications Intern
Williamsburg Farmers Market
What do you do as the market manager?
As the market manager of the Williamsburg Farmers Market, I am responsible for a lot of things. I handle vendor recruitment and retention; volunteer recruitment, management and retention; manage a staff; oversee advertising and marketing; website design and development; accounts receivables and payables; manage the budget; and oversee all programs and events for the market.
What is your favorite part about working with the Farmer’s Market?
I love the excitement of no two days being the same, and the wide variety of people I get to work with.
How does the Farmer’s Market benefit the community?
The market benefits the community by meeting a need. It connects the community with farmers, bakers and watermen. It creates and fosters a sense of community beyond the apparent retail angle. In addition, our programs are reaching diverse audiences: the young (with our Power of Produce Club for kids aged 5 – 12) and the lower income food insecure with our SNAP matching program.
What do William & Mary students do at the Farmers’ Market?
William & Mary students are customers, volunteers, and interns at the market.  Most students who volunteer, volunteer at the market help with setting up, answering questions, or breaking down the market.  Some students come volunteer at the office.  There, they help with data entry, data collection, data management, and many other things.
How does students’ volunteer work affect the community? 
The market has only 3 employees. The volunteers increase our capacity to do more.  William & Mary students helped design our Power of Produce Club.  Another student aided us with a 3 year research project with the Farmers Market Coalition and the University of Wisconsin about data collection at farmers markets.
Is there anything specific you hope students learn from their time at the Farmers’ Market?
I hope students learn to appreciate all that goes in to bringing local food to the community.

Active Citizen Profile – Carolyn Calder

Carolyn Calder

Carolyn Calder is involved in Aim 4 and leads a Williamsburg Engagement trip to Head Start each week.

Carolyn’s thoughts on active citizenship: “To me, active citizenship is about constant engagement with your community in an effort to improve the lives of those around you. Active citizenship doesn’t take a break– in all of your actions, you have to think about how this can impact your community and how you can be of better service to your community. Active citizenship is cool, because it allows you to let community engagement permeate every aspect of your life. ”

Carolyn’s favorite quote: “Having a right isn’t worth a damn if you can’t exercise it.”- Cecile Richards, president of PP



Vocation, Capacity, and Community

When I talk about vocation with students, I often describe it as the overlap between what you want and are equipped to do and what your communities need. After all, active citizenship, the guiding model of our office, is about prioritizing community in your values and life choices. It is through this lens of vocation that I am so excited about our funded local internships.
Through the generous support of the Parents Fund, the Office of Community Engagement (OCE) has been able to offer five internships since summer 2016 which address the capacity needs of local community organizations while providing amazing growth opportunities for the student interns. You can read about the experiences of all five interns, but here are a few highlights: Ashleigh Arrington sharpened her media skills by creating video trainings for Literacy for Life volunteers. Nick Adjami took responsibility for the Power of Produce Club at the Williamsburg Farmers Market, crafting creative ways for kids to learn about fruits and vegetables. Kassandra Smith applied her Environmental Science knowledge to develop curriculum for Waller Mill Park which educates visitors about healthy water systems.
This spring we are offering four more internships. Selected interns will serve 100 hours and receive a $1,000 grant for their work. Students must apply by January 30, 2017.
 Our spring internships are:
  • Willliamsburg Farmers Market Power of Produce Intern
  • City of Williamsburg Neighborhood Response Team Intern
  • Virginia Legacy Soccer Community Partnerships Site Intern
  • Williamsburg Faith In Action Volunteer Programming Intern
We were pleasantly overwhelmed by internship opportunities from the local community and are hopeful we can expand the program in the future. For now, students interested other community internships can email me so we can discuss the many other opportunities we weren’t able to fund this spring (like working with Heritage Humane Society, marketing projects with Literacy for Life or Family Focus, fundraising with Colonial Heritage Foundation, research with Community Housing Partners, or developing a summer meals program with Salvation Army to name a few).
Where do your talents and interests meet the needs of community?
-Elizabeth Miller, Assistant Director OCE


AnneWherever Anne Davis ’16 was, those around her were sure to feel a burst of energy. That’s one of the reasons I selected her to serve as the Fellow for Hunger and Nutrition in the Office of Community Engagement and why I was so looking forward to working with her. I wasn’t sure exactly where we would end up at the end of a year together, but I knew that the journey would be full of enthusiasm paired with real and meaningful action. That was Anne’s way.

I didn’t get to experience that journey with Anne because she was tragically struck and killed weeks before beginning the fellowship while participating in Bike and Build, a national cross-country cycling program addressing housing insecurity. Anne’s death rocked many of us on campus who knew her through an impressive diversity of involvements. Losing her presence in my life has fundamentally changed how I move through the world.

In our last meeting together to plan for the fellowship, we met at Aromas where Anne ordered nothing and instead ate a banana before packing the peel into a Ziploc bag. She was participating in a zero-waste week, she explained, and was carrying around everything she didn’t use—even a biodegrading banana peel. A few weeks after her death, I was walking back from another meeting at Aromas when I noticed a candy wrapper on the sidewalk. Two paces past the wrapper I stopped, turned around, and retrieved it. “Anne,” I muttered, certain that it was her voice in my head bringing me back to that action.

In the months since then, my daily life has been profoundly changed by the charge Anne unknowingly left me to pick up litter. On my walk from the parking lot this morning, I picked up a mint wrapper. As I head to an afternoon meeting, I’m sure I’ll find a bottle cap or crumpled receipt. I once found a to-do list including “get a tattoo.” Most shockingly, a few weeks ago as I picked up what I assumed was a Wawa receipt, I looked down at a check for $5,000 (returned to its rightful owner, I promise).

Every time I pause and pick up litter I speak Anne’s name in my mind. And when I stumble across that potentially awkward moment as someone reaches out with a handshake and I offer up a soggy scrunchy and a sandwich wrapper, I stop and tell them about Anne. I tell them who she is to me and the task she left me. Sometimes they are puzzled, sometimes they smile, and sometimes they congratulate me on the good deed. No matter their response, it’s a chance for me to speak Anne’s name and give voice to her love of the world. The best moments come when friends and colleagues who often walk with me see me reaching for a wayward scrap and it’s their voice saying out loud, “Thanks, Anne.”

Anne is with me in action. It’s not that every forgotten bit of paper or plastic is the point of connection, it’s the opportunity for change, the direct ability to pick it up and to care. That is what connects me with Anne. There are plenty of little things I don’t do every day, like make my bed, and big things, like dismantling systems of oppression. The bed thing I really don’t care about, but living in a world of justice and equity—a world Anne worked so hard to realize—that matters to me. That world only exists through action. Picking up litter doesn’t make me feel like I am changing the world, in fact it reinforces how much in the world needs changing. But picking up litter reminds me every day that there is work to be done, and I can do it. Every day I take action is a day that Anne is with me, and that is a day when I am doing something right.

-Elizabeth Miller, Assistant Director OCE

In Solidarity with You

Melody PorterSo many times when people talk about “community engagement,” we mean that community – the one off campus. The one made up of the children we tutor, the neighbors whose homes we repair, the citizens whose voices we listen to in city council meetings. So it can be easy to fall into thinking that our role as staff and students in the Office of Community Engagement is to go from campus, out to the community, and back again.

But for the past eighteen months, due to the publicizing of racism and injustice in our country and on campus, I have been thinking about community engagement differently. Community is found anywhere you share space, goals, or common interests with other people. Community is right here on campus, as much as (and perhaps more intimately than) it is in those places we volunteer and advocate. The family you talk with every week as you drop off meals, the grandmother waiting in line behind you at the Food Lion, and the person down the dorm hallway from you with whom you only exchange pleasantries: all these people are part of our community.

That means that for me, and for our office, we should focus on building active citizenship and a just society here on campus as much as in Williamsburg and globally. When we plan projects with community members, we begin by building relationships, and by learning about people’s stories, deep desires, and plans to reach their goals. We learn about the issues they’re facing by asking, and by doing our own homework through reading, watching, and listening. We gain needed skills, whether it’s how to drive a nail or the basics of community organizing. We ask how things are going and what we can be doing differently. And we maintain those relationships like we do with any friend – little check-ins and continuing to get together over time.

The fundamentals of this work are no different when it’s happening on campus. But on campus, many of us – most often, those of us in the majority or dominant culture – presume that we already are a community. That there are no divides to be bridged through listening, learning, and skill-building, because we already are “One Tribe, One Family.”

What so many on this campus know and live, however, is that we do experience division. We may share some ideals as One Tribe, but the experiences of students, staff and faculty of color, people who do not identify as male, those who are part of the LGBTQ community, and many more people – those experiences illuminate divides of privilege, prejudice, stereotype, and threat.

Since I took on the role of Director of the OCE last semester, I’ve been listening and learning to our community carefully for ways we can make our office and the campus environment more welcoming to everyone.

One thing I’ve learned: I’ve been assuming that everyone on campus knows that the OCE is a place for all. It’s an easy assumption for me, because my privilege means that I experience most places as welcoming. But I know that many of you actually don’t find open arms and big smiles everywhere you go.

And so I say this plainly, without assumptions: please know that we want to offer you solidarity and welcome here in the OCE. That goes for me, and for all of our staff. However you identify and wherever your path has taken you and is headed, we want to know what you need from us to be in true solidarity with you. We want to learn more about what you are up to, and to help you find partners in the work for justice, on campus and off. There is safe and expansive space here for you. In fact, we can’t build community, catalyze active citizenship, and create more opportunity for all without you.

We continue to expand our broad outreach through projects and programs that address issues of division and injustice on campus and off. But just as important, we want to know you and stand by you. To have coffee dates (just ask!, conversations after service that get below the surface to issues that are brewing in our own lives, and ways to help you connect your experience in community – no matter where that community is – to what you’re learning and what you’d like to do next.

The Miracles of the Young and the Old


So the tone of my last few posts has been pretty heavy. So for my next topic, I wanted to go with something more uplifting.

Kids are adorable and sweet. They can be rambunctious and crazy, and hard to handle. One thing that is certain, they have a way of looking at the world that no one else does. They are very perceptive, and they can see the joy and beauty in the world that often big people can’t. So you don’t think I’m fully idealizing kids here, I will also say they can be messy, loud, and tiring. They can demand a lot from you. It’s because children, by their nature, are meant to absorb, to soak in. They are learning about life, and crave any lessons that anyone can teach. At the end of the day, though, most people would agree that life is a whole lot better because of them.

People who are elderly, in my opinion, are generally really cool. They are wise, and calm.  Or they can be super feisty and won’t take crap from anyone. Many of them have a sparkle in their eye and an impish sense of humor. Having lived so much of their lives, they long now to give, to teach. They’ve absorbed wisdom, and experience, and have a great deal to share. Again, not to idealize; there are many challenges that come with being elderly. Accumulating health issues, combined with increasingly limited independence can be frustrating for both the individual as well as their loved ones. In situations with memory loss or personality changes, the feeling of loss for caregivers can be overwhelming. But again, at the end of the day, most people would agree that you would never stop loving someone because they grow old.

Not to get too philosophical here, but I’ve heard it said in different ways that kids and people who are elderly are in fact two sides of the same coin, and it is in reality the people in the middle who are so different. In that space between youth and age, it can be natural to become caught up in the daily concerns of life, and to lose touch somewhat with what really matters. Somehow, though, children and the elderly always seem to remember that.

But, unfortunately, these people are often lost in the shuffle. It is often easier to push them away in favor of something easier, something digital maybe, that doesn’t demand anything of you like they do. I know this because too many times I’ve made that mistake myself.

But there are some really exciting programs out that recognize how maybe kids and the elderly are perfectly matched to give and receive. In these new models, the nursing homes and elder care facilities are hosting preschools in their homes.

This approach has so many benefits. It helps to combat the loneliness and depression that elders often experience because of isolation. It helps keep them mentally sharp and stimulated because of their interaction with quick young minds. It gives them a sense of purpose and usefulness, as they are responsible to interact with the children. And maybe most importantly, it gives them a bond  of zany fun. And I think fun is pretty important in life.

It’s just as good for the kids, too. Kids may often be seen as a nuisance, and made to feel like they don’t matter. But in those moments when they interact with an elder, they can be made to feel like the most important person in the world. They can gain wisdom and insight that will guide them their whole lives. They can also develop a strong concept of the humanity of the elderly, which is often lacking in modern society. But as they grow up, and become the caregivers and policy makers (and as we grow old), don’t we want a generation of people who care?

Again, not to idealize- elder care facilities can be rough places. As time progresses, someone’s health may deteriorate, and that is hard for anyone to watch. It can especially be hard for a child who may have developed a bond with the elder, and may even have to watch them die. For someone so young, with most likely a very vague concept of what death even is, this could be traumatic. Some experts have mentioned that this may be ultimately positive, because our culture is so skittish about even acknowledging death. They think it may teach children the importance of accompanying people through this phase of their lives.

To be honest, I don’t know the answer to that question. I know if I were a parent, it would be instinct to keep my children away from that kind of pain, and it would kill me inside to watch them suffer. But at the same time, maybe early exposure to the realities of aging would make them less afraid, and allow them to have the right priorities and a richer life overall. Like most things in life, this isn’t a clear-cut situation. However, I also think, like most things in life, if you approach the situation with compassion and humanity, you’ll be a amazed of what can come of it.

Let’s talk about the border- Part VI

This is the last post in my series on Latino immigration, and offers some of my final reflections and ideas for how you can choose to become involved.

What now, and what Can I Do?

This series was pretty information dense, and somewhat un-bloglike, so kudos to you for making it to the end! I kept it that way on purpose, though, because this debate can become so emotionally charged, and somewhat disconnected from reality. I wanted to show that the facts in this debate really argue for themselves. When you look into the causes and effects of the system, anyone can see it that it is broken. It causes so much harm to people, both those who are hurt and those who do the hurting.

A couple of years ago I visited the Eastern Shore for Professor Arries’ medical interpretation externship, where worked mainly with migrant farmworkers. I really recommend it if you are at all interested. I got to see a taste of the terrible abuses of the system. I visited camps.  I saw an old, broken, two-story house with 40 people living inside. I saw how close the pesticide dispensers were to the camps- in fact, our car got sprayed with them as we drove there. I saw people sick with chronic illnesses that spiraled out of control because they lacked the resources to care for them. I saw agricultural businesses with so little accountability for the way that workers were treated that I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

“Where there’s life, there’s hope.”  Even with things as bleak as they are, hope can’t be lost. There are so many ways that we, even as young adults, can become part of the efforts to reform the system, at any level that we feel comfortable with.

Border Relief Centers

Kino Border Initiative-They offer food, shelter, and medical support to migrants.

No More Deaths– They offer humanitarian aid in the desert, keep records of abuses, and work with local community groups to help migrants after deportation.

Houston Catholic Worker- Casa Juan Diego– They offer multiple services, including food, clothing,  services for pregnant women and women who have been abused, and for people with disabilities.


Manos Unidas- CITA– They help workers obtain visas, advocate for improved working conditions, and help workers find jobs.

National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights– They work to combat abuse of immigrants at a local level, as well as documenting abuses and advocating to organizations such as the United Nations.

National Immigration Law Center– They provide legal counsel to immigrants with low incomes, as well as advocate for legal protections.

Farmworker Justice– They advocate for improved conditions for farmworkers.

Local Opportunities

Eastern Shore Medical Interpretation Externship– You work with Professor Arries to work with Eastern Shore Rural Health to medically interpret over the summer.

Catholic Charities Refugee and Immigration Services- They offer case management, assistance with legal counsel, and resettlement assistance.

Sacred Heart Center, Richmond– They offer English language classes, adult education programs, family services, and economic initiatives.

So there you have it- just a few ways that you could choose to become involved. There is so much to be done, and so many changes that must be made. But when you try, please, above all, remember the dignity of the people you work with. Ask them what their experience is, what they need. If you let that guide your efforts, the results will amaze you.