Fighting the Campus Right: How to Organize Against Racist, Homophobic Activists

Fighting the Campus Right: How to Organize Against Racist, Homophobic Activists

Session Type(s): Panel

Starts: Friday, Jul. 14 10:30 AM (Central)

Ends: Friday, Jul. 14 11:30 AM (Central)

Room: Salon C-5/6

The right-wing youth ecosystem has long excelled at organizing collectively; messaging uniformly and training, training, training young activists—particularly on college campuses. Yes, their ideas are dangerous, radical and anti-democratic. But their ability to empower young activists and their deep-pocketed donors’ willingness to fund so-called ‘grassroots’ youth groups have put left-wing organizers at a disadvantage when it comes to engaging students in the business of democracy building. How did this right-wing ecosystem come to be, and how can progressives combat it? What tricks, tools and strategies can we use to fight their well-funded astro-turfing with real student activism?


Julian Epp

Julian Epp is an editor for StudentNation, an online section of The Nation magazine written by young people that publishes first-person accounts from student activists and organizers. He has written for Dissent and The New Republic.


Mary Pat Hector

Mary-Pat is an experienced, effective community organizer, strategist, activist and founder who serves as Rise’s CEO.

A native of Atlanta, Georgia, Mary-Pat is a proud graduate of Spelman College and a current graduate student at Georgia State University.

Before joining national leadership, Mary-Pat made significant impact as the Georgia State Director of Rise where she helped mobilize over 100,000 college students and young people to get out the vote as well as trained and hired students to organize campaigns focused on eliminating tuition and fees; expanding financial aid; ending student hunger; and protecting those experiencing homelessness. In the 2022 election, Mary-Pat built a team of more than 400 paid youth organizers to lead the on-the-ground youth voter engagement program in the state. She also played a key role in shaping President Biden’s student debt relief program by organizing students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities to meet with Senior White House officials from the National Economic Council and Domestic Policy Councils. Most recently, Mary-Pat led a successful effort to fully fund the Georgia HOPE scholarship and cover the cost of tuition for Georgia’s public university students.

A trailblazer and visionary from an early age, at 18, she was among the youngest community leaders to advise President Barack Obama on criminal justice reform. By 19, she became the youngest woman and person of color to run for public office in the state of Georgia.

A devoted organizer, Mary-Pat understands the intersectionality of issues affecting the nation’s young people, especially those who have been discriminated against, disenfranchised, and pushed to the margins of society. She knows that organizing strategies are the key to a healthy, thriving and inclusive democracy. Mary-Pat has been among those on the frontlines of the nation’s systemic injustices – from leading hunger strikes that gained over 75,000 meals for students at HBCUs to protesting against police violence to delivering safe water for residents in Flint, Michigan and Jackson, Mississippi to advocating for closing the wealth gap with youth entrepreneurship programs.

Mary-Pat is an inaugural Highland grantee; which prompted her to found Equity for All, an entity that trains young leaders to run for office and seek equal representation opportunities. She also serves as an active member of Black Youth Vote Georgia, the youngest board member of HeadCount – an organization focused on voter registration and participation in democracy through music and culture, a founding member of Facebook’s State of Youth board, and a board member of EAT – a nonprofit startup dedicated to transforming the global food system.

Mary-Pat has the lived experience and the vision to guide Rise into its next chapter. Under her leadership, Rise will continue its movement-building around advancing free college and student debt relief while also partnering with over 1 million young voters to break the youth voter turnout record in 2024.

Mary-Pat was honored to be highlighted in Hulu’s The 1619 Project docu series and has been featured in stories with ESSENCE, C-SPAN, CNN, Rolling Out, BET, MSNBC, News One, MTV, and Huffington Post.

When she’s not on the frontlines, Mary-Pat enjoys traveling the world and spending quality time with family and friends.

Kyle Spencer


Kyle Spencer is an award-winning journalist, political consultant and author of the critically-acclaimed Raising Them Right – The Untold Story of America’s Ultraconservative Youth Movement and It’s Plot for Power, a behind-the-scenes account of the far right’s efforts to capture the youth vote. Kyle regularly speaks about Democracy-building efforts and consults progressive groups on communicating their values to young voters and getting them to the polls. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Politico and many other publications. She is a frequent MSNBC contributor and can be followed at @KyleYSpencer.

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