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A Front-Row Seat in the Political Arena

A Junior Statesmen invitation to a Democratic National Convention symposium makes personal the need for young people to get involved.

September 17, 2000|DAVID GRAHAM | David Graham, 17, is a senior at Moorpark High School. E-mail him at

I don't consider myself to be a Democrat, but when a letter arrived offering me the chance to attend last month's Democratic National Convention with the Junior Statesmen of America Foundation I couldn't resist.

While most people watched the convention on TV or ignored it altogether, I had a front-row seat. I became convinced that our government, to stay connected to its people and simply to survive, needs the involvement of young people. Millions of kids my age couldn't care less about who lives in a white house in far-off Washington, D.C. We need to change that.

I've been interested in politics for a couple of years now but it wasn't until last year that I began to love it. I am involved with the YMCA Youth and Government program, which stages a model legislature in Sacramento each year.

As a junior last year at Moorpark High School, I was editor in chief of the student newspaper and helped lead the charge to give it a new name and identity. The Blade, as it has been known for decades, was uninteresting and unexpressive of the students' views, so my journalism class and I set out to change that. We ran up against the student government, its advisor and the principal. I discovered that the struggle was more exciting than the outcome. I enjoyed fighting for my views, trying to understand my opponents' beliefs and taking part in debates. I've been sold on politics ever since.

The Junior Statesmen letter came less than a week before the application deadline, so I rushed to fill out the forms and write the required essay. About a month later, I received a notice saying that I was to be a part of the Junior Statesmen Democratic National Convention 2000 Symposium. I would stay on campus at USC from Aug. 13-18 with other high school seniors. We would hear speeches from important people and learn how politics works. I couldn't wait.

On Aug. 13, 90 of us from all over the nation introduced ourselves to each other. Thus began one of the best weeks of my life. We ate dinner, were given a VIP tour of Staples Center and heard speeches about the need for youth in politics.

On Monday, we woke up at 7 a.m., had breakfast and went by bus to the Young Democrats of America's youth caucus meeting. We met with several cabinet members and heard more speeches.

We went to the taping of MTV's "Rap the Vote," hosted by actor David Alan Grier and some hip-hop artists. We were supposed to watch President Clinton speak, but my friends and I stole away to watch Rage Against the Machine, the political rock group (and my favorite band), play in the demonstration area.

We only got to see them play one song but it was worth it. After police ordered the area cleared, some people started throwing bottles. We got away fast enough to avoid being targets of rubber bullets, but we walked right into another police barricade. Patriotic Hall, where the Shadow Convention was being held, had received a bomb threat hours earlier and officers were still there. My friends and I, in our suits or skirts, obviously posed no problem but we were nevertheless yelled at and were threatened with a baton and tear-gas. I saw people being arrested and carted off by the busload.

I was surprised at the almost reckless way in which the police tried to keep the peace; certainly some regulation was necessary but they went way overboard.

Tuesday was a busy day, filled with speeches and other sessions. Then on Wednesday, when they stepped out of Air Force Two at Burbank Airport, I met Vice President Al Gore and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman. After Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, Gov. Gray Davis, Hadassah Lieberman, Tipper Gore and then Gore and Lieberman themselves spoke to us, I rushed up and shook the candidates' hands. A month later, I'm still thrilled.


Wednesday, my friends and I visited the Shadow Convention, where we listened to Lieberman's speech via a live connection to Staples Center. The audience, mainly Green Party or Reform Party members, ranted and raved against the content. Then a panel of actors, journalists and others discussed how they would vote; most of them chose Gore. This was met with loud disapproval and the discussion turned into a debate between the audience, including some of my friends, and the panel. I had a great time.

The convention's final day was one of the best of my life. My friend from Massachusetts wheedled her state's delegation out of some scarce Staples Center floor passes. We got in at about 6:30 p.m., in time to see Tipper Gore's speech, a slide show, Al Gore's acceptance speech and the balloon drop at the end.

The atmosphere simply brimmed with excitement. I'll never forget the moment when Gore's speech ended and nearly 20,000 people jumped out of their seats as one to applaud, wave signs and scream their favor. Thousands of balloons dropped, and the stadium was lit up with the constant flash of cameras.

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