On Tuesday, September 16, Orlando Magic center Adonal Foyle ’98 returned to Colgate to speak with students about continuing a life of civic engagement beyond college. Foyle is the founder of Democracy Matters, a non-partisan campus-based project working to get big money out of politics. The Colgate chapter, started in 2001, was the first in the nation.
Foyle began his day by hosting a Brown Bag event in the O’Connor Campus Center (Coop) to discuss how he has incorporated politics into his life as an NBA player, and finished with a speech in Love Auditorium titled, “Playing the Game of Democracy: An NBA Player Speaks Out.”
“I have always been frustrated with this idea that students are apathetic,” Foyle said at the opening of his speech in Love. “Students aren’t selfish or apathetic. They volunteer in soup kitchens and fundraise for finding a cure for cancer. What is missing is politics. All these things we do, we don’t have to do one by one. Government policy can do these things at once.”
Foyle reasoned that students could change politics by applying pressure as a collective group, citing the past as an inspiration.
“Am I dreaming? I don’t think so. Students did it before, in the Civil Rights Movement, and they can do it again.”
Foyle explained his fears about the growing relevance of big money, especially in the electoral system. He cited that this election would likely cost nearly $1 billion by early November, making 2008 the most expensive election season in American history.
“This is a huge problem because most people can no longer dream about running for office,” he said. “Once we elect our representatives, they are unfortunately indebted to special interests. New people with new ideas just don’t have a chance anymore. We’re horrified but not surprised. No wonder too many Americans are cynical about politics.”
Foyle noted the connections between basketball and the mission of Democracy Matters: both are based on fairness and equality.
“Everyone has to play the rules, and anyone can win,” he said. “You’re either good enough, or you’re not. That’s the bottom line. But with our election system, the cards are stacked in favor of a small number. Can you imagine if sports were like politics and only millionaires could play? No one would watch. The sport would be ruined.”
Foyle did have a note of optimism for his audience of mostly students. He cited the six states that have already adopted clean election laws. In Arizona, ten representatives were elected with the help of public funding, including the governor. In Connecticut, 70 percent of candidates in this election cycle are running clean. He stressed that the $6 per taxpayer which the clean election system requires is “absolutely worth it.”
Foyle concluded with a call for the American people to make it clear that they want big money out of politics. Students can lead the way, and make a difference to effect change.
“End the hypocrisy,” he said. “Make sure elected officials aren’t dependent on private donors. Make sure they are spending more time solving problems, not raising money for the next election. It can happen if we’re all a part of it.”