The Colgate Scene
March 2002

Citizen Foyle
Adonal posts up against the big money
Mark Murphy, Adonal Foyle, and Emmet Davis
Celebrate: Athletic Director Mark Murphy '77, Adonal Foyle '98 and basketball coach Emmett Davis

While pop culturists paint the current generation of college students as apathetic, the first national conference of Democracy Matters on the Colgate campus last month drew representatives from 30 chapters across the county, all ready to charge the barricades on the issue of campaign finance reform. "People have misconstrued the whole image of college students and what they're thinking about," says Adonal Foyle '98, who helped Colgate basketball teams reach the NCAA tournament in 1995 and in 1996 established the Division I record for most blocked shots, 492, in a career. Now in his fifth season playing for the Golden State Warriors in the National Basketball Association, Foyle is providing the spark for the wildfire spread of Democracy Matters campus organizing.

Democracy Matters Logo Foyle was doing double duty on a weekend visit during the NBA All-Star break, presiding over the Democracy Matters Summit and attending the ceremony to retire his number, 31, making him only the fourth Colgate hoopster to receive that honor. (Others include Dr. Ernie Vandeweghe's number 11 from 1945-49, Bob Duffy's number 24 from 1959-62 and Tucker Neale's number 20 from 1992-95.) Foyle left Colgate after his junior year, chosen in the first round of the 1997 draft by the Warriors, the eighth pick overall that year. (He finished his degree in 1999 by taking courses at the University of California at Berkeley.) Foyle is the Raiders' all-time leading rebounder, with 1,103, and second-leading scorer, with 1,176 points.

"People think college students just want to drink beers and have a good time," Foyle says. "It's not really true. Most college groups want students to go out and raise money but give them no power. You've got to give them ownership of an issue and let them struggle with it." Foyle wanted his chapter representatives to use the first national confab to develop an information base. "Obviously you have to give them all the basic literature in the field. We've been very good at collecting that. If they have the information they can see how everything relates to their issue. Their job is to bring awareness of how many people don't approve of the way money dictates politics," he said.

It takes a lot of talking and a lot of time. Foyle remembers how the talking began when he was at Colgate. "We talked about issues," he recalls. "Civil rights, good schools in poor neighborhoods, the environment. We talked about someday making a difference. We were spread out over a lot of issues. Then as now there were a lot of organizations and there was participation, but I think college students fundamentally believe that they can't really do anything about the system, that it's a rigged system, and that their vote doesn't really matter. I think the issue of campaign finance reform is the issue to revamp the system, and that's what students want to get involved in."

For Foyle, politics and basketball began to mix when he was elected Golden State's representative to the NBA Players Association. There he found that people have the wrong image of his colleagues when it comes to public service. "They've been approached by so many charities and people basically asking for money and not for them to have an input in doing something profound in society. That can get really annoying. If you really offer them the opportunity to talk about issues and do something, most will give you a willing ear. There are some who don't care, but a lot of them are interested in politics."

Living with politics practically in his back yard, Foyle finds plenty of inspiration for his grass-roots campus organizing, especially in the off season. "I live right down the street from Berkeley," he notes. "There's always some proposition being promoted. It's very, very political." Heavily recruited by Syracuse and Duke during his high school years, Foyle sidesteps the question of whether he would have ended up as leader of a nationwide student political movement if he had chosen either of the high-powered basketball programs. "I had a great pair of step-parents," he says. "[Economics Professor Jay Mandle and Professor of Sociology and Anthropology, Emeritus, Joan Mandle] treated me as an adult and helped me develop responsibility and the ability to articulate what I felt about society. They trained me to think as a person and as a part of society."

Bearing witness: Foyle speaks in the Chapel on February 8

That tight family bond in part fostered the creation of Democracy Matters. "When I first got drafted with the Warriors," Foyle recalls, "I brought my mom and dad out to spend some time with me. By the second year my mom started doing some organizing in the Oakland area about campaign finance reform. She started talking to me about it and I did a lot of reading. We did a test run at Colgate and it took off from there." After the Colgate chapter formed, Joan Mandle left the faculty to serve as Democracy Matters' executive director. She and communications director Anne Weinberg constitute the Democracy Matters payroll, while Jay Mandle serves as director of development and Professor Adam Weinberg (sociology and anthropology) is service learning director, encouraging faculty members around the country to adopt Democracy Matters elements into their courses.

During the 2001 fall semester, faculty at Denver University, Georgetown University, Iowa State University, Providence College and Colgate were enlisted to use Democracy Matters service learning. A typical experience at Iowa State included meeting with lobbyists and members of the League of Women Voters and an interactive panel with state legislators. At Georgetown the faculty was amazed at how the students took to the topic of campaign finance reform and how the students were surprised that other students didn't flock to the issue. Expansion plans include adding the University of Tennessee, the University of Colorado at Boulder and Northwestern University as service learning campuses.

For all the momentum building on campuses, however, campaign finance reform is no pushover issue, according to Foyle. Indeed, campaign spending continues to skyrocket. Estimates of the cost of this year's New York State governor's race, for instance, now hover at $100 million, twice the cost four years ago. "The way you have to look at it now," he admits, "it's not a good guy, bad guy issue. There's no real laws that say people are doing something wrong. At this point it has to be voluntary. You have to ask people to bear witness on the issue. You have to write letters and protest and just try to make people aware."

Nor does Foyle condemn those elected officials, even those who have proposed campaign finance reform and then say that as long as their opponents can take big contributions from special interests, they have to, or risk losing the seat from which they could vote to further the cause. "That's a legitimate argument," Foyle observes. "In the current system, they're right. This is where the states have to step in. Maine has done really good stuff and they're a role model. But in the current political climate, you can't condemn anyone for taking the big money."

In remarks at Colgate last month preceding a talk by former Senator Bill Bradley, Foyle likened campaign finance to pro basketball. "There's no buying your way into the NBA with money," he said. "You're either good enough or not. . . . The ideal of justice is encapsulated in the world of professional basketball."

"A politician relies on the size of his own bank account or on making calls and begging people for money," he added. "All citizens should have an equal chance. . . . In the NBA, on any given night, any team can beat any other team. Politics should be just as fair as professional sports. After all, it is a bit more important."

None of this will tempt Foyle to run for office, however, either as prime minister on his home island of Canouan in St. Vincent and the Grenadines or for some local office in the Bay Area. "Absolutely not," he insists. "I am not wishing to be in elected office. I have seen too much for that. I understand the difference of being a politician, every day negotiating. It's easier to be on the outside, focusing on issues, pushing people toward democracy." But at the same time next year, he'd rather be pushing the ball up the NBA floor than pushing democracy at a conference on campus. Maintaining that his current statistics (15 minutes, 4 points and 3.5 rebounds per game) are not the point, with a lilt and a laugh he says, "I want to be an All-Star."

Three-time New York Press Association Writer of the Year, Walt Shepperd '62 has been senior editor of the Syracuse New Times since 1973 and executive producer of the national award-winning teen program The Media Unit since 1976.
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