With red, white, and blue eagles emblazoned on the outside and dedicated volunteers inside, the Democracy Caravan roared into Lawrence Wednesday. It set up shop outside Checkers Foods, 2300 La.
"Democracy is under siege," Caravan volunteer David Schwenk said. "We need to make sure as many people as possible get involved in our democracy to make sure our leaders follow the will of the people."
The group is in the midst of a yearlong trek across the United States. It set out from Sacramento, Calif., Oct. 1, with stops planned in all 48 contiguous states before Election Day 2004.
Along the way, volunteers are talking to people of all political affiliations and recording their comments for a documentary.
"We'll ask their questions to the presidential candidates," organizer Ben Sher said. "We're kind of on the campaign trail."
The nonpartisan group spent the afternoon registering voters, but caravan members will have an uphill battle. Voter apathy levels have been historically high, especially among youths.
"There's a lot of anger and frustration out there in the country," Schwenk said. In "both parties, I think the traditional bases feel their parties have abandoned them."
The Democracy Caravan is just one of a growing number of political and electoral events centered around issues instead of candidates.
Even the partisan group Lawrence for Dean, which is dedicated to electing Howard Dean as president in 2004, recently had a town hall meeting to discuss the Bush administration's controversial No Child Left Behind policy for America's schools.
"Most of us feel the media are not adequately covering the issues," said Lauren Sullivan, a local political advocate who helped bring the Democracy Caravan to town. "If we can be the media, talk to people one-on-one about the issues, I think we're going to have a more informed public."
Sullivan said she hoped groups such as the caravan and her own groups, the nonpartisan Kumbaya, Dammit, a progressive advocacy group, and Lawrence for Dean, will create an alternative source of information to mainstream newspapers and television.
"Most people get their information from the TV," Sullivan said. "But they show what sells, which right now is Kobe Bryant and Scott Peterson."
Sher said the Democracy Caravan was a "grassroots movement fighting back by going high-tech."
The group has satellite Internet access from the road and organizes many of its events using e-mail and through its Web site.
"We update the Web site with pictures and stories every few days," Schwenk said.
He said, in the end, whether the combination of low-tech glad-handing and high-tech communication created a more educated generation of voters didn't matter.
"We cannot be concerned with the end result," he said. "These last six weeks I've felt very empowered. People need that."