Student Politics

Did you hear about this? Two high school students found out that Barack Obama was going to be at a diner across the street from their high school so they ran out to try and meet him, ask him some questions. What do they get for their efforts?

A signed excuse slip by Barack Obama and a one day suspension.

Look, I completely understand that ditching class deserves punishment. Gone are the days where you could leave and have a parent send a permission slip the next day, now all dismissals/absences from classes need to be cleared before the day starts. I’m not saying that they shouldn’t be punished. But for pete’s sake, make them bang erasers or sit in detention or stay in the principal’s office during lunch instead. Suspended for a day seems a bit much for what they did.

When I was a senior in high school, Bill Clinton was serving his first term. I didn’t give a damn about politics. For that matter, since I was so much younger than everyone in my grade, when they took all the seniors to the assembly in February to swear them in as registered voters I wasn’t even old enough to participate. I knew that politics was based out of DC, that taxes were bad, that my grandparents would be at the church working the polls on election day, that there were Republicans and there were Democrats, and that most of my family would rather give up the farm than vote for anyone that wasn’t a member of the Republican party. Didn’t matter who they were, what their stand was, or what kind of person they were–if they were a Republican, they got the vote. That’s it. I didn’t give two hoots about politics.

When I was in college, I got a bit more interested. Not Alex P. Keaton obsessed, mind you, but interested.

After college, I paid attention. I got into the debates, and I had a good friend (over at Plenipotentiary) that was a political junkie, a product of being a DC suburb kid. During the first Bush Jr./Gore race, I remember going to an outdoor concert with her and a spirited speech on why neither one of the candidates would work but that she would be more than willing to vote for a Lieberman/Chaney ticket. About that time, I also remember watching an interview. Some talk show (Oprah, Rosie, Leno, whoever) had found a six year old boy that was obsessed with politics. So they put a suit on him, gave him a microphone, and sent him to get as many interviews as he could with those running. It had to be pretty early in the election as there were six or seven candidates that I remember blowing him off, completely thinking that this kid was a waste of time. One candidate, however impressed me to no end as he not only listened to the kid, he got down on his knees and spent a good five minutes talking to the kid. I don’t know why, but the one question I remember is the kid asking “Why should I vote for you”. The candidate answered by saying something along the lines of “Well, if you were old enough to vote I’d tell you the same thing that I’d tell your parents today. Whoever you vote for–me, him, him, or anyone–will act in what we feel is in the best interest for this country. And while the direct result may not be something you see right away or something that you even like, what we’re really doing is trying to make sure that we lay the fundamentals down so that kids that are the age you are today will have a future to look forward to, a future that has a government and a culture that you are proud to be a part of and proud to participate in.” There was more, but that answer, and the consideration the candidate gave a six year old kid, impressed the hell out of me.

That man was Al Gore.

While he won the popular vote, he didn’t win the election. (That’s a whole different posting!) But that is what really got me interested in a layman’s point of view of politics. I don’t research, I don’t campaign, but I listen, I read, and I am interested. I watch the debates, I pay attention to the waffling opinions, I care. And I have come to the same conclusion as Plenipotentiary–you can moan and complain about the government and the law as much as you want, so long as you vote. If you didn’t vote, you didn’t participate in the process, so shut the heck up. You don’t get the privilege of protesting because you didn’t voice your opinion when it was asked for.

One of the few positives to come out of my last relationship was the fact that B had never even registered to vote. We were together during the election, and he couldn’t understand why I was so into the debates and listening to the arguments to figure out who to vote for. The more we watched, the more into it he got. And when he went to get his driver’s license he registered to vote. If I did nothing else for the man, I made him a responsible citizen for the 2.5 seconds it takes to hit the touch screen. Granted, the election between Edwards and Bush was more of a ‘vote for the one you dislike the least’ than a ‘vote for the one you agree with’, but still. And while the candidate I liked the most dropped out of the race a few months ago, I still pay attention to what’s going on, and I’m still trying to form an opinion for who I like the most.

So for these two kids that got suspended I say good for you. It took me 15 years or more to get to where I gave a darn about politics. To be seniors in high school and care that much, even if it was just to get an autograph from a political candidate on a piece of paper, is more than I ever felt. In light of the small number of people that actually care about the process and care about politics regardless of age I applaud these kids, and hope that they continue to care about a cause enough to break a rule in order to fulfill a desire they care that passionately about. One day suspension isn’t that bad, and hey–it gives you great fodder for a college application essay!

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