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Democracy, One Lap at a Time

Democracy, One Lap at a Time

By Miles Doyle, FCRH '01

Jonathan Williams, FCRH '01 (left) and Diane Hineline (center) with members of the Run to Vote team.
Photo courtesy of Jonathan Williams
As Senators Barack Obama and John McCain crisscrossed the country this summer working to secure their respective party’s presidential nomination, a fleet-footed group of high school students logged an equally impressive amount of miles as part of a Fordham graduate’s ambitious—and pavement-pounding—civic lesson. 

Jonathan Williams, FCRH ’01, a second-year history teacher and cross-country coach at Granville Central High School in Stem, N.C., organized Run to Vote, a non-partisan voting drive, to teach his students about democracy and to call their attention to the upcoming presidential election.

In three months, Williams and his team, a small group of freshmen and sophomores and another teacher, covered more than 14,000 miles, making stops in each of the country’s continental 48 red and blue states. Along the way, they registered 433 new voters while securing 6,130 pledges to vote in the general election this November.

Williams, who previously ran from Newport Beach, Calif. to Newport, R.I., after earning his master’s degree in professional ethics in Australia, was itching to get back on the road. He initially planned on running solo along the Eastern seaboard to promote voting. When he mentioned his plan to Diane Hineline, his mentor at Granville Central, she suggested taking some students with him. Williams thought it was a good idea and later convinced Hineline to come along.

“Suddenly, it hit me,” explained Williams, a former member of the Fordham men’s cross-country team. “That’s the way I had to do it. I realized it was the perfect opportunity for a teacher to show [his students] that they actually do have a voice.”

For every person the team registered to vote, a member of the team—usually Williams—ran a quarter of a mile, or one lap around a regulation track. If the group didn’t register a significant number of people on a particular day, they would run additional miles to get their work in for the day. In three months, the team ran approximately 672 miles, according to Williams.

“The kids worked really hard. They were up early every day, sometimes at 3 a.m. just to drive eight hours to participate in the day’s voting drive. A day off was sometimes an eight-hour drive. It definitely took a team effort.”

Particularly when the road got a little rocky, as it did on the 4th of July weekend, when the Run to Vote van’s transmission blew at a rest stop in Richland, Wash. Williams wasn’t sure how they were going to get back to North Carolina, a continent away, let alone continue the voting drive. After a few phone calls, however, he found a sympathetic tow truck driver about 75 miles away, who put up Williams and the team for the night in a hotel, fed them, replaced their transmission free of charge and sent them on their way the following morning.

“We definitely had to roll with the punches,” Williams said. “But everybody was amazing, really.”

Williams also noted that the country is excited about this historic election, and expects a large turnout on Election Day—from Obama supporters and McCain backers alike.

“There is definitely a buzz around the country,” he explained. “We just want people to vote.”

—Miles Doyle, FCRH ’01, is the associate editor of FORDHAM magazine.

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