NORTH KINGSTON—This generation has the tools necessary to change the world one life at a time, said former Democratic Presidential Candidate Howard Dean, the kick-off speaker at the Second Annual Rhode Island Student Political Boot Camp.
Speaking to an audience of about 100, Dean spent the majority of an hour discussing the effect the multicultural, under-35 generation has on politics. Dean is widely recognized for helping to raise the profile of grassroots campaigning and believes that though "young people are not intrinsically political," they will play a role in President Obama's reelection.
"This is local stuff," he said. "Find a local campaign that's going to mean something to these young people. And while they're at it, they might as well vote for the president."
Dean then fielded questions from the audience, which included topics such as his transition from physician to politician and the future of U.S. politics.
The boot camp event was held at the University of Rhode Island Nov. 18-20. Each day featured such luminary keynote speakers as former United States Representative Robert Weygand and current Rhode Island State Senator Dawson Hodgson. More than 150 students from over 15 different schools registered for the bipartisan event. The goal was to "empower students with the skills necessary to make the change they want to see in their community," said Scott Andrews, a senior at the University of Rhode Island and executive director of the steering committee.
Daily workshops covered topics such as persuasive communication and the use of media for advertising. There were two breakout sessions as well, designed to give students "an opportunity to form connections and build a network with people who want to get involved with specific issues," Andrews said. The first was designed for students from across the state to meet, and the second aimed to allow students to develop plans to get involved in issues. There was also a job and internship fair on the last day, and organizations such as Marriage Equality Rhode Island, Common Cause and Democracy Matters handed out business cards.
Overall, the event encouraged students in the under-35 generation, which has been noted for its political apathy, to participate in democracy, an "event that occurs every day of (our) lives," said Weygand. "Why does that woman from Afghanistan walk 80 miles to vote when we can't even get people out on a Tuesday night?"
He asked audience members to sit down if they answered no to a series of questions, including whether they could name their state representatives. The results were telling — only a handful of students remained standing after all the questions had been asked.
This year's boot camp attracted more students than last year's and also had more schools represented. "More students attended the whole political camp rather than a day or two or for a particular speaker," said Matt Gunnip, a second-year graduate student at Rhode Island College.
Many students left the political camp with a new awareness of politics. "It was an eye-opening experience that made me more passionate to get into politics. I would definitely go next year," said Rebecca Mears '15.
Dean summed it up with, "You have the extraordinary luxury of carrying on this experiment that's been going on for 235 years."