Alum Authors Book on Civic Engagement – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Alum Authors Book on Civic Engagement

Michael Mills ’96 has written a book “Battling Democracy’s Decline,” that advocates civic engagement. A recent article in the Messenger Post newspapers featured Mills and his views on the civic process in the U.S.

According to the article, his message is: “People can take part in government, whether it’s a small town board or Congress.”

Mills is quoted as advocating stronger involvement in the process and more effort to “ingrain civic participation in our lives” starting at an earlier age.

A native of Rochester, N.Y, he graduated from Hobart with a degree in political science and was active in ice hockey and Hobart student government. He holds a master’s degree from Georgia State University.

The full article from the Messenger Post follows.

Messenger Post
Local scribe’s message: Get involved

Jessica Spies, staff writer January 1, 2009

Greece, N.Y. – More than 131 million Americans voted this past November, marking the highest ever turnout for a presidential election.

But if you ask Greece native Michael Mills, the number – representing some 62 percent of eligible voters – is still not good enough.

“The challenge is we don’t ingrain civic participation in our lives,” Mills said. “When people turn 18, we expect them to participate in government.”

Mills, a 1991 Olympia High School graduate, has penned the book “Battling Democracy’s Decline” that looks at, among other things, voting trends and civic participation. His message: People can take part in government, whether it’s a small town board or Congress.

Mills writes from experience. He served as a legislative aide to for former Georgia Secretary of State Lewis Massey and worked as campaign press secretary on Mark Taylor’s bid for lieutenant governor of Georgia in 1998.

He also worked for the Georgia campaign for Vote for America, a national non-profit organization that aims to educate voters.

The book was published by Booksurge Publishing out of South Carolina in December. It is now up for sale online at and

It took Mills, 35, who now lives in Atlanta, nearly four years to get the book out. He wrote the first draft in 2004 and updated it in 2007 in time for the 2008 election. He left his job in public affairs for Wal-Mart in August to start his own public relations firm.

As for this past presidential election, while Mills is disappointed with the turnout, he acknowledges it’s unrealistic to have expected the other 38 percent of eligible voters to go to the polls. Why? Because they have not been consistently taught that they should.

“People participate in the civic process when it’s meaningful to their daily lives,” he said, adding that people turned out for this year’s election because they felt they had more invested.
Mills thinks that voting is just the first step in the civic process.

“We need to get engaged just beyond voting,” he said.

When Mills was in high school, he took the class he called “PIG,” an acronym for Participation in Government. Mills said the class, while beneficial, wasn’t enough. Children, he believes, should be encouraged to get involved in government earlier – and more often.

Kris Cappiello, who teaches civic participation at Odyssey High School, agreed that students should be informed about the political process. Cappiello points out that the course Mills took has changed since he was in school. It has been renamed to Citizens in Action and is now a combination of economics and government.

“Throughout the high school level, we look at how citizens interact in societies and how citizens can make a difference,” Cappiello said.

Students in the class are also required to do 20 hours of community service, something Mills advocates in his book.

For Mills it’s simple. When you get involved in government, you have a say over what happens.
“Legislation will happen either with you or to you,” he said.

Biography: Michael Mills
Education: Graduate of Greece Olympia High School; earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva. Holds a master’s degree in communications from Georgia State University.
Work: Regional director of public affairs for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Founded the non-profit Coalition for a Voting America in 2000. Managed the 2002 Georgia campaign of Vote for America. Worked for former Georgia Secretary of State Lewis Massey and was press secretary on Mark Taylor’s campaign for Lieutenant Governor of Georgia in 1998. Now a small business owner and civic activist. Chairs the Board of YES!Atlanta.
Sidebar 2:
Civic duty, according to Michael Mills
In his book, Mills suggests four steps to getting involved with government. They are:

Get informed: Become educated about issues and government operations and share the information with others.
Find others: Build coalition of people to bring about change. There’s strength in numbers. If you have a specific cause, find others that share in that cause.

Get to know: Elected officials want and need citizen input. By attending board meetings and introducing yourself to elected officials, you’ll feel like you’re taking a bigger part in the civic process.

Take action: Put the knowledge and relationships developed through active civic engagement to work for your families, neighborhoods, county and world. Whether it be volunteering or getting the word out about your cause, you can make a difference.