Joshua Hamill

Hamill, Joshua Hesburgh Democracy Fellows

"Being a champion of democracy means being a leader who actively and passionately advocates for democratic principles and works to protect, promote, and defend democratic values, institutions, and processes – preferably in a way that stands out from the common crowd."

Josh Hamill is a sophomore studying political science and sociology, and a student in the Glynn Family Honors Program. Hailing from Orland Park, IL, Josh has championed democracy as a legal intern working in Texas border communities and through engagement with South Bend's Financial Empowerment Center, alongside Notre Dame's Student Policy Network.

What does being a "champion of democracy" mean to you?

Being a mixed-race individual, my childhood was filled with stories and opinions from both sides of the coin – having a black parent and a white one. Although I couldn't quite understand the full magnitude of the information I was being told, or its correlation to democracy, I remember always feeling like one parent's interpretation of democracy, and their experiences dealing with its systems, always painted things in a much better light than the other. After repeated instances of this, I was convinced that my parents shared very different experiences of the democratic systems of the United States – which, in and of itself, justifies the idea that democracy in America has not been held at a uniformly acceptable standard. This was very concerning to me, especially considering that my future plans involve a prolonged stay in the States, including the start of a family and career. Reflecting on the cases of my parents, I realized that I don't want my children to have the same concerns when they hear stories from my spouse and I. In order to do this, I came to the consensus that the responsibility of making a change falls on my shoulders, and it would be unfair to force that duty unto someone who doesn't want to dedicate the effort required.

Therefore, I look forward to engaging in issues that relate to American democracy, as my prowess and opinions on the issue can always be reconsidered and improved. It's important to have a good grasp on democracy and its perplexing byproducts from as many perspectives as possible. That's the only way to better comprehend and anticipate its effects on society. Being a champion of democracy means being a leader who actively and passionately advocates for democratic principles and works to protect, promote, and defend democratic values, institutions, and processes – preferably in a way that stands out from the common crowd. It means having a deep commitment to democracy as a system of government that is based on the will of the people, the rule of law, and the protection of individual rights and freedoms. Overall, a champion of democracy is a person who is committed to promoting, protecting, and defending democratic values and institutions, and who works tirelessly to ensure that democracy is vibrant, inclusive, and resilient.

Tell us a bit about your experience working as a legal intern in McAllen, TX. How did this experience shape your understanding of democracy and what it means to champion it?

Being that close to 'the action', experiencing such intense cases of inhumanity and inequality, certainly altered my mindset regarding mankind in the modern day and how democracy looks in America. The biggest deviation from my prior interpretations on democracy during my time in McAllen revolves around the byproducts of the democratic system that America incorporates around its borders. My time near the border really opened my eyes on the impact, or lack thereof, of our lobbying for liberty and a uniformly equal democracy from an individualistic standpoint. Obviously, or should I say hopefully, the average American would rather promote a proper democracy than not. In America, however, we tend to think that this internal promotion alone is enough to advance democratic ideals throughout our government via candidate and policy selecting processes. This idea alone has soiled us, making us complacent with the level and shape of democracy that our society promotes currently. What most people won't see though – and what I was lucky enough to experience during my time in McAllen – was the difference in what politicians promise to encourage and what is done in reality.

Being so involved with the immigration department, a symbol of everything wrong with democracy in America, I was able to comprehend the troubles that democracy in this region of the world will face in the near future and what it is facing currently. In addition, I was able to learn that complacency won't be enough––if we want to have a strong democracy, those with the means to do something impactful must act on that ability, and not dismiss the challenge as something that someone else will/should do. I say this because there is nobody else willing to do it. As I've seen it, if people don't actually do something about the issues at hand, if people don't champion for democracy, then the fabric of our democracy will internally be ripped at the seams.

How have you championed democracy on-campus and in the local community? 

Currently, through the Student Policy Network, I've been able to engage with a small team of students whose goal is to create a list of policy recommendations for the city of South Bend to apply, following the recent addition of its Financial Empowerment Center. Applying what I've previously learned about what a proper democracy should look like, and analyzing what this looks like in the South Bend community, I've promoted policies that specifically help boost financial literacy and wealth building in minority communities. This has been in an attempt to reduce economic inequality, which is a major barrier to democratic participation. When people are struggling to make ends meet, they are less likely to be able to participate in the democratic process, such as by voting or attending community meetings. Additionally, the policies that I'm lobbying for promote democratic values such as transparency and accountability. For example, the recommended policies that provide financial education and training can help people to better understand how government budgets work and how they can hold elected officials accountable for their spending decisions. Similarly, the policies that promote financial literacy and consumer protection help to ensure that financial institutions operate in a transparent and fair manner, which is critical to maintaining a healthy and democratic society.

Do you have a favorite course/book that you found helpful for thinking about democracy - either in the US or abroad?

The course, "Keeping the Republic" has made me reevaluate what I consider democracy to look like within the United States. This class, taught by Professor Campbell, has not only facilitated a semester of learning applicable theories and hypotheses that I currently use to measure and assess what democracy should look like in modern times, but also provided an emphasis on the fact that democracy can never be executed perfectly – a belief that always needs to be taken into consideration when thinking about democracy anywhere.

Who is a public leader or historical figure that you admire, or would consider a model 'champion of democracy'? 

The first name that comes to mind is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Growing up with aunts that engaged in the Selma to Montgomery marches and uncles that discussed ideas of hope with MLK himself, there has always been a great amount of honor for him and his efforts to promote a universal respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms – two critical aspects of a successful democracy. His adoption of nonviolent resistance not only illustrated his caring and thoughtful heart, but his cunning intelligence and idiosyncratic moxie at the same time. For someone to possess such a creative mind and utilize it in a manner that promotes equality and liberty, respect must be given. For someone to dedicate one's entire life to it, however, means that they deserve to be considered a model 'champion of democracy.'

To learn more about the Hesburgh Democracy Fellows, ND Democracy Talks, the Washington Program, and other opportunities to engage the work of the Rooney Center and Hesburgh Program, visit