• Engaging with Current Students:

    SAO Conference at Amherst April 17 - 18, 2015


    Join the Amherst Family of Students, Faculty and Alumni to consider actions to improve our Democracy.



    Working Program Agenda

    SAO Conference – Restore Our Democracy

    April 17 – 18, 2015






    By the end of the conference, participants will have taken steps toward agreement on -

    • Possibilities for alumni, students, and faculty to work together on strategies to restore our democracy.
    • Initial steps to launch the Student/Alumni Organization (SA0).
    • Origins of the current dysfunction in our democratic system and the dominance of special interests and the impact of the Powell memorandum of 1971.
    • Change initiatives we should advocate.


    Friday, April 17


    3:30 PM         Registration opens
    4:30                Welcome & discussion of conference program, SAO mission and plans, and conference


    5:00–7:00      Jeffersonian Dinner Format: Table discussions of a) what is your definition of democracy,

                          and b) do we have a democracy? - Issues with our politics and economics that concern

                          you and your vision for a brighter future.

    7:30               Address by Hedrick Smith open to the Amherst and Five College Community. Topic:

                          The Interrelationship of Our Political and Economic Problems and How Did We Get


    9:15               Social hour

    10:15             Adjourn for the evening


    Saturday, April 18


    8:30 AM         Breakfast at Valentine.

    9:15                Conference convenes – Plan for the Day.

    9:30                Film clips addressing structural changes that can fix our politics and make our economic

                           system fairer, including non-partisan redistricting processes, increased voter

                           participation, public campaign financing, repeal of sore loser laws, open or more

                           competitive primary processes, re-work of Congressional rules to reduce "party line"


    9:45                Panel discussion: Priorities for structural changes that would improve our political and  

                           economic systems: Hedrick Smith, Professor Jonathan Obert, Neil Bicknell ’64 and Abe

                           Kanter ’15;     moderator TBD, followed by Q&A and group discussion.

    10:25              Ten-minute break

    10:35              Breakout Sessions on Structural Changes (moderators TBD):

                        -   Do you agree with procedural changes discussed?
                        -   Are there other changes important but not discussed?
                        -  How should the proposed changes be prioritized?

    11:05              Breakout Sessions on Policy Issue Advocacy (moderators TBD)

                        -  Will advocating for an increased gas tax help build political consensus?
                        -  What is the potential for an e-voting system to increase turnout?
                        -  Shall we support passage of the Voting Rights Act as a change priority?
                        -  Other policy issues as the group may decide.

    11:35              Plenary discussion of priorities for change – reports from breakout groups.

    12:00              Lunch at Valentine

    12:45              Presentation by Steven Olikara, Founder and President of the Millennial Action Project,

                           on The Role of Millennials in Achieving Political Change.

    1:15                Panel discussion followed by Q&A: How to Engage Beyond Elections – Lessons from  

                           the 60’s and the What Millennials Can Do: Steven Olikara, Pierre Joseph ‘15, Mitch

                           Meisner ’64 and Smokey Stover ‘64, moderator Kim Hetsko ‘64.

    2:00                Concurrent Breakout Sessions: Moving the SAO Forward, including action programs to

                           promote changes discussed in the morning sessions:

                          1. Generating op-eds for newspapers and social media distribution;
                          2. Developing and promoting questions to ask 2016 candidates for office;
                          3. Extending SAO’s reach to students and alumni on other campuses;
                          4. Developing an education initiative to promote civic engagement 
                          5. Creating a program to open democracy issue dialogues between U.S. students and

                              students at foreign universities.  (Other initiatives as the group may decide.) 

    3:10                Ten-minute break. 

    3:20                Plenary session: Report back from breakout groups on moving the SAO forward, next

                           steps for the SAO and evaluation and discussion of lessons learned and suggested

                           improvements for future SAO programs.

    4:00                Closing Comments, Speaker TBD

    4:20                Conference adjourns followed by a social hour.

    The Jeffersonian Dinner



    Thomas Jefferson would invite men and women steeped in politics, literature, the arts, the sciences, theology, history, mores, and manners—to spend a stimulating evening around his dinner table. This was a prime source of education both for Mr. Jefferson and for the guests, all of whom were engaged citizens, eager to share and debate ideas that would shape the nation.