Working with the Al Franken for Senate campaign I’ve just been to enough political rallies and large scale events in the recent weeks to tide me over for a few years but the joint sessions put on by Youth and Government seem more like a form of entertainment to me. 2000 kids roam around roaring cheers, thrusting pelvises, throwing homemade sticker-ed candy at people and hoisting hand-made candidate signs with messages like;
“It’s no sin to vote for Quinn” surrounded by yellow, orange and black flames drawn on with permanent markers
“Spread the disease; Vote for Aziz”
There is also a boy enthusiastically banging on a cowbell, which is making me happy.
I feel conflicted by the energy and enthusiasm these kids bring to politics and elections as mundane as the Chief Clerk and the way in which they do it. It’s not that any of this is bad(bad as in morally, not as in badly written, they are that). It’s that witticisms and confidence really do carry the day here and three annual conferences can’t provide quite the depth of experience that these kids need to really learn about how democracy works, and how to be involved in it effectively. Perhaps I’m over ambitious with my ideals for a high school program. But I wish this were something they had to do in school, not that it were an extracurricular interest to learn about the way all the decisions affecting our lives are made.
The auditorium we are in is white and has a large vaulted ceiling, it is wood with concrete floors. It’s like a warehouse or an airplane hangar.
We’re all waiting for this thing to get started so we can get out of this hot room. There are three screens up front and the image on two of the screens is what appears to be a sewer lid with Y&G written on it and electrical currents coursing over it (to make it look exciting?). Anyway, some intense music starts and the sewer lids start to move, with the little blue electricity lines still flashing, and we move through some indeterminate gray matter until we see what appears to be a group of small mammals watching a screen. It says lemming migration guide. I’m thinking, okay, this is going to be some kind of attempt to appeal to the youth using cartoons and the metaphor of lemmings jumping off a cliff to make fun of people who aren’t politically engaged. You wouldn’t want to be a lemming right? So you join Y&G and become a critical thinker or something like that. I know, it’s pretty weak. So the lemmings watch the video where they see other lemmings being instructed to jump off of a cliff. And all the lemmings watching seem to be fine with this except for CRACKED OUT PURPLE VIBRATING LEMMING WHOSE EYES ARE DIFFERENT SIZES AND SEEMS TO HAVE OVERDOSED ON A MIX OF AMPHETAMINE AND GRAPE JUICE. This lemming sees through the migration plan and escapes through a video-game looking labyrinth to the bright sunshine which is actually a glowing all caps BOB. …What the hell was that? That was somebodies bad idea at that time in the morning where you are either drunk or delirious enough to think everything you say that makes you laugh is brilliant. And then the rave music comes on, and I guess this makes you all excited to have followed the purple epileptic lemming into the light of BOB? Youth and Government, for those who don’t know is a large program, over 2000 students attend each conference, two of which are held at camp Roberts, affectionately known as BOB.
Anyway, the youth governor is introduced and though well-dressed and confident makes a fairly common mistake in public speaking, to relate what you are doing to the inventions of fire and the wheel. He describes the latter of the two as rolling stones around on a hill until we realized we had created a wheel….He then explained how it was here not more than four hundred years ago that for the first time in the course of human history democracy had started, here in the U.S. I looked around and nobody seemed to mind this explanation so I just went outside for a little while.
Now, don’t get the wrong idea, I’m sure this kid is very smart. He also pointed out the hypocrisy that while California had passed a proposition intended to improve the quality of life for farm animals we had also passed a proposition to ban certain rights for human beings(prop 8 banning gay marriage). He said passionately that we could do better to the cheers of the crowd. I was glad that he was being outspoken about this issue in particular considering that he also outed himself to the crowd during the speech. In spite of the glaring nods to the failings of our educational system his speech still made me feel that there is a reason we call this a model legislature program. These kids had elected their first female governor literally over fifty years ago. Black leadership, Hispanic leadership, and whatever else; Youth and Government has never been a prejudiced prep-camp for those already groomed for leadership. His admission demonstrated the human vulnerability that is so integral to taking a courageous stand, and the kids respected it and supported him. Still there is nothing quite as amusing as a group of self-important teenagers synopsizing history and comparing arguing the merits of having a duck replace the bear on the flag of California(a bill proposal) to the invention of fire. Coming from a real campaign, and the involved politics of our nation to here to see how some of the next generation is being trained is both inspiring and frightening. But I think I will talk more about that later.
Sarah from Minneapolis just called to ask me to let them know how soon and if I could come back to work on the recount. Oh Geez…