Leslie Sweem Bhutani

“I am an activist. If we want our children to live in a democracy, and our girls to enjoy full equality, we must support young people’s civic education and engage them in the voting process. That shouldn’t be partisan and that’s why I believe in Civic Influencers.”

Leslie Sweem Bhutani had a career in financial services prior to becoming an activist in social justice causes. She was on the board of the League of Women Voters of Greenwich, CT and was a founding member of Connecticut Against Gun Violence. She is currently on the board of Planned Parenthood California Central Coast, the Brennan Center for Justice and the Equal Rights Amendment Coalition. She has also volunteered on committees for the Humane Society of the United States, the Children’s Aid Society, NYC, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and the Community Environmental Council in Santa Barbara, CA. She is an executive producer of several documentaries, most recently about environmental issues. She splits her time between New York City and Santa Barbara and is an active investor in companies that will change the world.  

Gwen_Dungy_Sept2019-2399 copy

Gwendolyn Jordan Dungy

“I’ve been an educator and psychologist for decades, focusing on young people’s development and higher education. For me, being American is also about embracing our roles and higher education’s roles in civic life, including voter registration and voting. That is not partisan, and should never be partisan. Civic Influencers’ non-partisan work with young people, both on and off campus, is helping fulfil the American Dream of a just, robust and inclusive democracy.”

An accomplished speaker, leader, and educator, Gwendolyn Jordan Dungy served as executive director of NASPA from 1995– 2012. In her capacity as a national advocate for students and student affairs in higher education, Dr. Dungy pursued a number of initiatives designed to enhance the association’s role in public policy, research, professional development, and student learning and assessment. She initiated NASPA’s signature program on civic learning and democratic engagement, and she remains a champion of NASPA’s undergraduate mentoring program. Since 2003, she has had a particular interest in the readiness of colleges and universities for the returning student veteran.   

Liz Ricci Thumbnail

Elizabeth Ricci

Elizabeth (“Liz”) Ricci has been involved with Civic Influencers since early in its history and has seen the tremendous growth and impact the organization has had over time. After a career working at Procter & Gamble, as a Director of Finance and then Director of Global Ethics & Compliance, she wanted to devote more time and energy to helping Civic Influencers achieve its mission of engaging as many students as possible with full recognition of the disparities that currently exist within our voting systems and our democracy.  “I grew up believing we all had a role to play in keeping our democracy strong, but I also took the access I enjoyed for granted. That can no longer be the case, and we must continue working until we can guarantee that same understanding and access for all. Our focus on the students we serve will help build a lifelong commitment to the responsibility we each share to keep our democracy strong.”


Vivian Polak

“I’m a daughter of Holocaust escapees and was raised with the core beliefs that apathy and silence are unacceptable responses to injustice, that democracy is a privilege, and that voting is a civic duty.  I am passionate about the data driven work that Civic Influencers is doing to co-create a movement of engaged and very diverse young people to vote, protect, expand and defend our democracy and freedoms.”

Vivian Polak is a daughter of Holocaust escapees and was raised with the core belief that apathy and silence are unacceptable responses to injustice, that democracy is a privilege, and that voting is a civic duty.  A graduate of Barnard College (cum laude) and Harvard Law School, she was a partner at a NYC-based global law firm where she formed and led one of the first law firm information technology practice groups.  She also re-envisioned law firm diversity, equity and inclusion to promote DEI among partners (most law firm efforts focus on entry-level associates and not on more senior lawyers) and she established a nationwide program for Fortune 500 general counsels to engage in conscious consumerism to retain diverse partners at major US law firms.  Since retiring from law firm practice, Vivian has focused on social entrepreneurship and on establishing, with her wife, a charitable foundation dedicated to promoting a more level playing field by changing the systems and structures that limit opportunities for many.

Magdaleno Rose Avila thumbnail

Magdaleno Rose-Avila

Magdaleno (“Leno”) Rose-Avila  grew up one of 12 children of immigrant parents from Mexico and started working in the fields at age 11. At  University of Colorado, he helped create the first programs for students of color. After joining a United Farm Workers strike he worked with Cesar Chavez at the United Farm Workers, running his first state-wide voter registration drive with them in 1972. Later he ran the Cesar Chavez Foundation. As a regional director for Amnesty International, he worked with Coretta Scott King and Joseph Lowery and got Sister Helen Prejean, who wrote the book and film Dead Man Walking, involved in the death penalty. In the Labor Dept he played a key role getting gender equity bill Title IX enacted and later was a Peace Corps director in four countries. He founded and ran Homies Unidos in Los Angeles and El Salvador, where former gang members empower current members to understand nonviolence and creatively resolve conflicts, ran Seattle’s office of Refugee and Immigrant affairs, and was named Distinguished Citizen of the Year by Seattle’s Human Rights Commission.

Bruce Spiva Headshot

Bruce Spiva

“I am a voting rights lawyer, and in March 2021 I argued before the United States Supreme Court that ‘more voting restrictions have been enacted over the last decade than at any point since the end of Jim Crow. And that the 3 months since the 2020 Presidential election had seen an even greater uptick in proposed voting restrictions, many aimed squarely at the minority groups whose participation Congress intended to protect.’ We now have 425 voter suppression bills in 49 states already this year, 33 of them have become law in 19 states. 

I believe the work of Civic Influencers to organize young people (and particularly young people of color), and give them the tools to advocate and remove voter suppression barriers, is a vital component in our fight to save our democracy.”

Bruce V. Spiva has tried cases, conducted arbitrations, and argued appeals in areas of law ranging from congressional redistricting, civil rights, and First Amendment, to antitrust and securities. Bruce has an active political law trial practice, having tried 12 redistricting and voting rights cases in the past six years, and several others earlier in his career.


Ari Weinstein

“I believe a crucial ingredient in the lasting success of our democracy is to make voting easy and uncomplicated, especially for young people and those who are marginalized. Our voting system is outdated, outmoded and ridiculously complicated, which prevents young people from voting and weakens our democracy. As a software engineer and founder of a tech startup, I am passionate about software solutions to problems. But I also believe in the need to engage with people face-to-face. Civic Influencers uses data-driven organizing to bridge the gap between technology and community, and to make voting more accessible. I think it’s going to have an enormous impact on young people and their ability to influence democracy.”

Ari Weinstein studied Computer Science at MIT, but dropped out to start Workflow, a tech company in San Francisco. In 2016, Ari and took a break from building Workflow to start VotePlz, a 501(c)3 non-profit aiming to engage young people to vote in the 2016 election. Subsequently, Ari continued to build his company, which was acquired by Apple in 2017. Ari believes deeply in the power of civically-engaged young people, and is excited to use his experience with technology to contribute to the very crucial, data-driven work that Civic Influencers is doing.