Rock the Vote Launches ‘Democracy Day’ with Glee Star Darren Criss, Bringing Civics to High Schools Nationwide

On Wednesday, in every state across the country more than 800 educators are celebrating the first annual Democracy Day, committing to teach Rock the Vote’s Democracy Class lesson plan to students in a massive push towards civic engagement. Democracy Day is a partnership between Rock the Vote and the National Education Association, enabling educators, student organizations, youth groups and after school programs to bring this civic education lesson to classrooms from Los Angeles to Chicago to Philadelphia, and everywhere in between.

Democracy Class is a one-class-period program that uses pop culture, video, a classroom discussion and a mock election to teach young people the skills necessary to navigate the elections process and engage as active citizens. (

Darren Criss, star of Fox’s Emmy award winning mega-series Glee, will kick off the program at Hamilton High School in Los Angeles, California on March 23rd. (For more information, see the schedule of Democracy Day Launch Events below.) In California alone there are more than 130 schools participating in the Democracy Day celebration.

“The voting process can be a bit overwhelming and at times confusing, particularly for first time voters,” said Criss. “I’m very excited to be a part of such a comprehensive effort that both educates and encourages young people about the importance of their vote.”

The Democracy Day launch coincides with the 40th anniversary of the passage of the 26th Amendment, which gave 18-year-olds the right to vote. Educators and students worked together, and in doing so they amended the Constitution and empowered millions of American citizens to have a say in our democracy.

“Teachers and young people fought hard 40 years ago for 18-year-olds to have the right to vote, and we are excited to offer a program to classrooms around the country that can help high school students exercise that right,” said Heather Smith, President of Rock the Vote. “Turning 18 and becoming eligible to vote is a tremendous rite of passage. Junior and senior year of high school is the ideal moment to connect with young people, and give them the tools to become life-long voters and participants in our country’s democracy. We are asking that schools take one day, once a year to bring Democracy Class to their students.”

Democracy Day events around the country will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the 26th Amendment, a fight in which NEA teachers were instrumental decades ago.

“NEA’s tradition of supporting American democracy goes back more than 40 years, when our activist student members and their allies led a successful campaign to give 18-year-olds the right to vote,” said John Wilson, NEA Executive Director. “And over the past four decades, the 26th amendment has continued to give young people a powerful voice in shaping their future as responsible citizens in our representative democracy. NEA is proud to work with Rock the Vote and ‘Democracy Class’ to encourage America’s young people to register to vote.”

In addition to learning about their right to vote, young people in some states will also get the chance to interact with elected officials who impact their local communities. At Grady High School in Atlanta, Georgia, State Senator Jason Carter will join Rock the Vote in the classroom and US Representative Jay Inslee will participate at Lake Washington High School in Kirkland, Washington. Secretary of State Jon Husted will join students at Labara High School in Northeast Ohio in the Democracy Day celebration.

In Pennsylvania, the School District of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Youth Commission have partnered to host a week long Voter Registration Drive from April 11-15th asking every high school in Philadelphia to bring Democracy Class to their students and get them registered to vote.

In addition to the NEA, we are working with more than a dozen organizations such as Future Educators Association, SparkAction, Youth Policy Institute, and Junior Statesman of America who are supporting Democracy Day activities in their local communities by reaching out to their national membership and encouraging them to bring Democracy Class to their high schools.

In April, the Youth Policy Institute (YPI), the largest after-school provider for high schools in California, offering tutoring and enrichment that increase academic achievement while keeping learning fun, will roll out Democracy Class at more than 40 high schools in Los Angeles.

Democracy Class is supported by an impressive and diverse advisory board of public officials, education leaders and artists, including: The Honorable Debra Bowen, Secretary of State, California; The Honorable Sam Reed, Secretary of State, Washington; Steve Barr, Founder and Chair Emeritus, Green Dot Public Schools; and Benji and Joel Madden of the band Good Charlotte. A full list of advisory board members is available on the Democracy Day website.

The supporting website,, offers easy access to election information, ways to get involved in registering voters, interviews with artists and athletes, and materials for teachers and community groups to use in their classrooms.

Teachers like Barbara Wainer, a social studies department chair in Columbus, Ohio who has brought Democracy Class into her classroom, says it’s an “excellent way for students to learn that they have a voice in the future if they take the time to vote. This program helps to make the students understand that voting is essential to their future.”

Democracy Class is an important part of Rock the Vote’s outreach plan in 2011 and beyond, as almost 13,000 young people turn 18 every day. High school students care about the issues that affect them, and Rock the Vote is committed to making sure they have the information and resources they need to participate when they become eligible, and to encourage them to make a lifelong commitment to vote in every election.

“The most common reason why young people don’t register to vote is that they don’t know how,” said Smith. “Every student deserves to be empowered with this knowledge.”

Democracy Day celebrations will take place around the country, including events like these on March 23, 2011:

Los Angeles, CA
Alexander Hamilton High School
2955 South Robertson Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90034
1:00 – 4:00 PST
Special guests: Darren Criss (Glee)

Cleveland, OH
LaBrae High School
1001 North Leavitt Road
Leavittsburg, OH 44430-9600
Special guests: Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted

Kirkland, WA
Lake Washington High School
12033 N.E. 80th Street
Kirkland, WA 98033
8:00 -9:30 am
Special guests: Congressman Jay Inslee

Irmo, SC
Dutch Fork HS
1400 Old Tamah Rd
Irmo, SC 29063
11:20 am

About Democracy Class

Rock the Vote’s Democracy Class program is designed to educate and excite high school students about voting, elections and governance. This nonpartisan lesson plan uses music, pop culture, video, classroom discussion and a mock election to teach young people the skills to navigate the elections process and engage as active citizens. In 2011, which marks the 40th anniversary of the 26th Amendment that gave 18-year-olds the right to vote, Rock the Vote is working with national and local partners to announce Democracy Day asking educators and organizations to bring Democracy Class to students. For more information visit or

About Rock the Vote

Rock the Vote’s mission is to engage and build political power for young people in our country. Using music, popular culture, new technologies and grassroots organizing for more than 20 years, Rock the Vote has registered more than 5 million young people, including a record-shattering 2.5 million registration downloads in the historic 2008 election. In 2010, Rock the Vote logged more than 300,000 voter registration downloads as part of the largest midterm election outreach strategy in our organization’s history. As the tidal wave of Millennial generation voters continues to establish its power at the polls, Rock the Vote will register millions more young people and make their voices heard. In 2011, Rock the Vote will lead the charge toward making our electoral process more accessible to young people through our high school civics program, Democracy Class, by rallying young people to stop unfair registration laws, and educating prospective 2012 candidates on how to incorporate young people in their campaigns.

About the National Education Association

The National Education Association is the nation’s largest professional employee organization, representing 3.2 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers.

NEA believes every student in America, regardless of family income or place of residence, deserves a quality education. In pursuing its mission, NEA has determined to focus the energy and resources of its members on improving the quality of teaching, increasing student achievement and making schools safer, better places to learn.