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Washington, DC, United States, 2007/03/11 - Caitlin Noris, Special to the Wall Street Journal, interviews President of the Collegiate Forum, a student run policy center representing more than 50,000 students in the United States, Canada and Germany.
The March edition of the Wall Street Journal: Classroom Edition which features a profile of the President of the Collegiate Forum. We belief that your readers in particular would benefit from knowing more about our growing organization.
About the Forum
The Collegiate Forum (collegiateforum.org) is a student run policy center with more than 1,000 student leaders representing approximately 50,000 college students in the United States, Canada, and Germany. The organization utilizes its member's unique position to influence the policy process. Additionally, the Collegiate Forum, publishes "The Podium", a collection of student written advocacy statements and essays which is delivered to every member of the United States Congress.
The Young and the Idealistic - On Campus With Jonathan Fantini, Political Activist
By Caitlin J. Noris
Special to The Wall Street Journal Classroom Edition
The pen, they say, is mightier than the sword. Jonathan Fantini owes his very existence to a well-written letter.
In the 1970s, his mother, a member of Amnesty International, spent years writing to the Argentinean government advocating for the release of a political prisoner she had never met. Her constant campaigning eventually helped free the man, a college student unfairly jailed for protesting the country’s military government. They met the day he was released from prison and quickly fell in love.
“My father is evidence that you can change a person’s life with a piece of paper,” says Jonathan, a 22-year-old senior at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
‘The Way Politics Should Be’
With such a background, it’s no surprise that Jonathan embodies his parents’ fiery spirit to change the world. He’s a founder and president of the Collegiate Forum (collegiateforum.org), a student-run progressive organization that encourages students to share and learn from one another’s political opinions and experiences. The group, which began in 2003, claims more than 1,000 members across the U.S., Germany, and Canada. Jonathan’s patriotism and discontent with the Iraq war inspired him to form the group.
“We have people from both sides of the aisle sitting in the room talking, and these days that’s not an easy thing to come by,” Jonathan says. “It’s a nice thing to be able to talk to someone, and not get a sly remark or a dirty look. It’s the way I think politics should be, and that’s something an organization that’s made up of youth is able to do. We can redefine how things are done.”
One of the most refreshing aspects of being young is that our opinions are not set in stone, which usually leads to more insightful debate. And the diversity of college life, in particular, offers countless opportunities to challenge other people’s perceptions and your own. Your roommate may speak English as a second language, practice a different religion or simply hold a different outlook on life. The diverse and welcoming college atmosphere provides an easy springboard for discussion. That’s why Jonathan chose to take the Collegiate Forum beyond Georgetown University to other campuses around the country and abroad.
Political activism has long been a hallmark of college campuses, but it has evolved over time, from protests and sit-ins to Web sites and emails. Many issues facing youth today are global in nature, and technology-savvy college students recognize that the most effective way to reach policymakers is through a massive, collective voice.
The Internet, text messaging and social-networking sites like MySpace have transformed the way political groups communicate with and mobilize their supporters.
But with so much information moving around so fast, Jonathan fears we could ignore the importance of truly listening and reflecting on others’ opinions. “The trouble I find with some youth organizations is they act before learning,” Jonathan says.
“Beards and tie-dye shirts are out, and suits and red ties are in,” notes Jonathan. “It’s a professionalization of college activism, but it leads to an aesthetic focus when it should be a substantive focus.”
Write a Letter
Jonathan says it’s important for young people to research a topic and listen to others before defining their positions and mouthing off. Universities provide a wealth of resources for this: libraries with access to publications from around the world, professors who can offer insight and expertise, and even ordinary social interaction with your fellow students. (Collegiate Forum publishes its own journal with essays and political commentary, and an annual policy statement reflecting the views of progressive youth.)
Like his mother, Jonathan is a big proponent of writing letters to government officials. “Articulating your thoughts to your representative is a powerful ability,” he says. Having done internships for two congressmen, Jonathan confirms that our representatives really do personally read well-written, thoughtful letters.
The rigors of college life can make it tough to stop and think about saving the world all the time. But it’s useful to take time occasionally to step out of your dorm and look at the global picture, Jonathan says.
“When you find your cause, it’s not a question of how many hours a day you’re devoting to it,” he says. “Your cause just becomes part of your life. The feeling that you’ve accomplished something or helped someone means you can go on endlessly. Time isn’t a question; it’s a question of how much you can do.”