February 20, 2015 |

Making a Difference: BecomingCivically and Politically Engaged

By Campus Philly

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While the view outside may still scream “winter,” it’s time to get in a spring state of mind, and that means getting ready to rock the vote with this year’s primary elections. The elections will take place on May 19, 2015, and that means that anyone who is registered to vote can use their powers for good and nominate local Philadelphia candidates for Mayor, City Council, City Commission, and Sheriff as well as other official state positions. While it is often all too easy to get swept up and swept away in the promises, campaign rhetoric, and frenzy that can surround politics, it is important to keep the emphasis on the issues and the people who are affected by them.

That’s where organizations like the Committee of Seventy, a nonprofit, non-partisan organization, come in. Established in 1904 to combat corruption in Philadelphia, the organization now functions as a good government group that aims to inform citizens and to fight for transparent government.

Committee of Seventy’s Senior Policy Analyst, Patrick Christmas, shared some insight into his work with the organization and their mission.

Christmas is unique in that his transition into the political sphere was an unexpected one. After graduating from Swarthmore College in 2008, he worked as a science teacher at Fels High School in Northeast Philadelphia for five years. How did he make the leap from classroom to politics?

“During my time there, it seemed to me that politics and the way our government functions is as significant an impediment to our schools doing well as anything else…I wound up studying government in grad school and through my graduate studies found out about the Committee of Seventy and the work that it does,” said Christmas.

After interning at the Committee of Seventy in the summer of 2012, Christmas went on to snag the position of Senior Policy Analyst, where a typical workday consists of “checking up on the news” and “getting up to speed, because for any of our work to be impactful, we have to know what’s happening out there in the world,” said Christmas.

The organization strives to keep citizens up-to-date about upcoming elections and voting, as well as implementing initiatives that fight for fair elections and ethical politics. Some of these initiatives have included getting political candidates to be more detailed in their solutions to the city and state education crises and leading a coalition of 185 groups to educate voters on how to be prepared for voter ID laws. In one sentence, the mission of the organization is to “work for better and more honest government.”

As college students, many of us are just beginning to realize the great impact that our voting and voice can have in shaping and positively influencing the political landscape on both a local and national level, but sometimes the demands of being a college student and a millennial can eclipse our engagement with politics.

As a self-professed former “casual observer” of politics, Christmas says that in regards to this, college students “are so in tune with what is happening with your classes and on your own campus…there’s so many distractions going on…that you may not be paying attention to government politics on the local, state or federal level.”

College students definitely inhabit their own bubbles that are filled with millennial priorities, and younger audiences may feel that politics are a part of a world that is too adult to really grasp, but organizations like Committee of Seventy provide opportunities to get young adults involved and active as agents of social change.

Students can work with their Election Program, which “recruits volunteers to get out there on election day and visit polls.” These volunteers are educated on voter laws and registration information so that can help answer voters’ questions at the polls or through a hotline.

Christmas’ parting advice for understanding and engaging in politics? “To keep it simple, I would just urge young folks to pay attention…to get involved because you can have real power in what happens in our community.”

Stay up-to-date on the latest student events, deals, and ideas this semester.