Washington, DC - The Young Democrats of America (YDA) kick off their inaugural Faith and Values Leadership Summit today with former Congressman Tom Perriello (D-VA) at the National Democratic Club. A weekend-long gathering, the Summit brings together 100 young leaders from around the country for training in Democratic faith outreach. The Summit is co-sponsored by the Catholic University of America College Democrats and will take place on the campus of Catholic University on Saturday and Sunday. Presenters include Rev. Derrick Harkins, the Director of Faith Outreach for the Democratic National Committee; Burns Strider, former Senior Advisor and Director of Faith Outreach for Secretary Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign; Eric Sapp, founding partner of the progressive faith-based consulting firm the Eleison Group; Mara Vanderslice, who oversaw faith outreach for Senator John Kerry’s presidential campaign; and John Kelly, former Democratic National Committee and White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships staffer.
“YDA has taken a bold and important lead in making it clear that Democrats understand the relevance of faith and values,” says Rev. Derrick Harkins. “The summit they are holding this weekend will lay important groundwork as the 2012 election unfolds. We see it made clear by the negative rhetoric of the GOP that we need young leaders with visionary optimism grounded in enduring values. I am thankful for what YDA will accomplish with this effort.”
“This YDA summit is focused on exactly where we need to be as a Party: on articulating our values, which is how we inspire and connect with all voters, and on the importance of special engagement with faith communities, which make up the largest swing voter populations each election,” says Eric Sapp.
YDA launched its Faith and Values Initiative in October 2011 to provide a strong young Democratic voice to communicate the values the Democratic Party represents. The mission of the initiative is to win religious Millennials today while building faithful Democratic leaders for the future. Since October, the initiative has developed a leadership team representing 22 states and established communications, campaign and outreach committees to reach religious Millennials with the message that Democratic policies are much more aligned with the values of people of faith than the extreme positions that today’s out-of-step Republicans have come to embrace.
“The goal of the YDA’s Faith and Values Initiative is to ensure that as Democrats, we are doing everything we can to show young people of faith the deep connection that exists between their values and the core principles that guide the policies and work of the Democratic Party,” says DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz. “It’s a conversation that simply is not had enough – and Democrats are committed to changing that.”
"Whether it's fighting for economic justice for the working class, stewardship of the environment, compassionate immigration policies, or a commitment to civil rights and equality, young people of faith are finding that their values are increasingly in line with the priorities of the Democratic Party,” says YDA President Rod Snyder. “The political fault lines and culture wars of the past four decades are shifting dramatically, and the YDA Faith and Values Initiative will seek to demonstrate that the Republican Party no longer has a monopoly on faith."
The Faith and Values Leadership Summit, the first of its kind in the history of the modern-day Democratic Party, is aimed at equipping young leaders around the country to communicate the values connection between Democrats and people of faith on their campuses and in their communities. Each participant will commit to engage in a number of high-level ways to do this in the 2012 election cycle.
"Democratic values have always been aligned with religious principles. The YDA Faith and Values summit is incredibly important to highlight political organizing skills and teach our participants how to operationalize those skills, through their roles in the faith community,” says YDA Executive Director Emily Sussman.
In the coming months, the Young Democrats of America will reach out to faith-based campuses and places of worship to begin a conversation about the type of country the next generation wants to inherit. YDA will host listening sessions, issue advocacy campaigns, trainings and service days to demonstrate that people of faith have a home in the Democratic Party. Through their website (www.ydafaithandvalues.org), Facebook page and twitter account (@ydafaithvalues), the Young Democrats are spreading the message that Democrats are the party that best represents religious values.