Youth get closer look at DNC, RNC conventions, by 8-18 Media

As this edition hits the streets, 8-18 Media reporters and editors are on the road covering the Democratic National Convention in Denver and the Republican National Convention in St. Paul. During each convention, 8-18 Media is interviewing politicians and young people about issues that affect youth. As preparation for our coverage, 8-18 Media spoke with officials and young people from each party about what the conventions are doing to involve youth, use new technology and conserve energy and natural resources.
The 2008 Democratic and Republican National Conventions were setting records and making history before they even took place. The estimated numbers of attendants alone are impressive. In St. Paul, the Republicans are expecting 45,000 people, while the Democrats in Denver moved the site of Barack Obama’s acceptance speech to a venue to hold more than 75,000.
This moving of the acceptance speech to a venue outside the Convention Hall only has happened once before. A significant portion of these large numbers are young people whose participation in the 2008 presidential primaries and caucuses produced a record high turn out.
Since the presidential election in 2000, voter turnout by eighteen- to twenty-four-year-olds has increased steadily. According to The Pew Charitable Trust, the percentage of young people who voted rose from 36.5 percent in 2000 to 42.3 in 2004. The trend of youth involvement has been increasing over the past four years as well and the political parties are recognizing the power young voters have.
Both parties realize age does not dictate how politically active a person is. Natalie Wyeth, Democratic National Convention Committee press secretary, said even if you’re not old enough to vote, it doesn’t mean you don’t have a place in politics and the conventions.
“We’ll have delegates that may not be eighteen yet by the time of the convention,” she said. “You do need to be eighteen by the time of the general election in November to be a delegate to the convention, but it’s tradition that we do recognize the role of young people in politics.”
Mike Knopf, seventeen, of Dubuque (Iowa), will be a delegate at the RNC. He turns eighteen four days before the November 4 general election, possibly making him the youngest delegate there. He thinks young people are a crucial part of the Republican Party.
“If we want to keep an old party fresh, the key is to keep young people routing through the party, and there’s no better way to do that but influence young people with other young people because they’re not going to be inclined to listen to an older person,” Knopf said.
Yohana De La Torre, a spokesperson for the GOP Convention, explained how the Republicans have involved young voters.
“Various youth organizations will be taking part in this year’s convention,” she said. “Groups like the Young Republicans, the College Republicans, the Page Program, Lead America and many more are going to attend the events September first through fourth.”
In St. Paul, College Republicans are planning strategy meetings as well as a paddleboat excursion on the Mississippi River, while College Democrats hosted their own convention in Denver the weekend before the National Convention.
Charlie Smith is national chairman of College Republicans. He explained his group has a busy week planned.
“Hundreds of our members from all over the country will be attending the Convention as Delegates, Alternate Delegates and volunteers,” Smith said. “They will participate in all aspects of the Convention, from casting their votes for Senator McCain to be the nominee of our Party to the logistical nuts and bolts of making sure everything goes according to plan. Finally, on Thursday night we’ll be throwing a big party for our members to celebrate a successful convention.”
Organizers of both conventions found a way to engage those who aren’t old enough to vote. They launched essay contests for Colorado and Minnesota middle and high school students. Thousands of essays were submitted on the themes of leadership and patriotism.
Mari Tanabe, seventeen, of Colorado Springs (Colorado), was one of two winners in the DNC contest with an essay that mirrored the party’s current message: “Restless for change.” She was to be honored at the convention on opening night. Tanabe said the voice of young people is very significant to the conventions.
“They are a part of this country and they should be a part of the decision making,” she said. “I think it’s important because sometimes young people think that they don’t have a voice and they don’t matter, but I think we have really good things to say and we’re a really hopeful generation.”
Tanabe suggests that if adults remind youth they have an important voice, more will become involved in politics.
“I know that when I talk to people from the campaign I’m working on, I feel like they’re really listening to me, which is different; I feel like I’m making a difference,” she said. “So, I think just reaching out more and showing them that what they say is important…that they can make a difference too.”
Another way Republicans and Democrats are drawing in young people is the Internet. Popular Web sites such as MySpace, Facebook and YouTube are allowing the parties to connect to youth in a way never before possible.
On MySpace and Facebook, both presidential campaigns have set up profiles and groups for their candidates. Some candidates have used the sites to attract and organize volunteers. Knopf saw a lot of advertising on his Facebook account by both parties.
“Even in the preliminaries, before we got our presumptive nominees, they sent us a bunch of information,” he said. “There are links you can click on to learn more about the candidates themselves. So they’ve been a great help in getting young people involved.”
Republicans and Democrats both held YouTube contests, asking users, many of them young people, to create videos about why they are Republicans or Democrats in 2008. The winner of each contest was decided with voting by YouTube users, and each won trips to the conventions.
Both political parties are using new technology to spread convention proceedings across the globe. Smith explains that even the process of establishing the Republican Party’s platform has been opened up through the Internet.
“One thing I think is really cool is the Web site created by the Republican Platform Committee,” Smith said. “It allows people to give their input about what should be in the platform through video or text submissions. This online outreach effort helps to demystify the platform writing process, and gives normal people the opportunity to have their voices heard.”
The Democrats also used new technology in developing their platform. Wyeth explained that people were able to sign-up to participate in platform hearings and submit ideas to the national party online.
“Typically the party’s platform is developed through maybe a handful of hearings around the country where members of the public come in and submit testimony and input on the issues they want to see represented as part of the party platform,” she said. “This year they’re doing it differently with hundreds if not more than a thousand community platform hearings to be held around the country in all fifty states.”
No longer will political junkies have to rely on sparse network coverage of the conventions since each will have interactive live streaming through the two convention Web sites.
“We’ll be able to share the Republican Party’s message with millions around the world in real time, which is really important to us because we’re going to be streaming events gavel-to-gavel in both English and Spanish to millions around the world,” De La Torre said.
Technological advances are affecting media coverage in other ways. The 2004 conventions were the first to have bloggers. That year, the Democrats only had thirty credentialed bloggers and the Republicans only twelve. Now only four years later, more than ninety bloggers will attend the DNC, and the RNC is expecting more than 200. Bloggers allow for a specific type of reporting, in which voters have first hand, up-to-date accounts of happenings at the conventions.
“We expect [bloggers] to open up the process quite a bit and really provide a unique perspective on the convention, rather than just what cable news and network news may offer,” Wyeth said.
Among the many positive aspects of having cutting edge technology is that it allows the conventions to be more environmentally friendly and waste less energy.
“Going green” is increasingly popular among many voters and the Democrats and Republicans are promoting their efforts to conserve resources and protect the environment. Not only are they striving to make the actual conventions more energy efficient but also everything leading up to them.
The RNC offices in St. Paul have done their part to reduce their impact on the environment.
“The initiatives we’re working on run from everything like using recycled office furniture and supplies to living near our office so that walking is encouraged,” De La Torre said. “But for the people who don’t live close to us, we also have hybrid and Flex-Fuel vehicles.”
The Democrats have taken a different approach to offset their impact from transportation.
“We’re also encouraging all of our delegates to offset their travel to the convention through what’s called the Green Delegate Challenge,” Wyeth said.
The DNC has partnered with Native Energy, a company that provides carbon offsets to compensate for natural resources used by the delegates in their travels. The state with the most participating delegates received the best seats on the convention floor.
“Our delegates are really excited about that opportunity to make a positive contribution,” Wyeth said.
Tanabe had the opportunity to tour the DNC offices and saw the recycling system that is in place for the convention.
“I think it’s so important that they’re setting an example at such a globally publicized event because I hope other people will follow their example,” she said.
According to De La Torre, this will be the greenest Republican National Convention ever.
“We’ve been able to use a lot of recycled products,” she said. “We’re using a lot of audio-visual technology in order to be able to save some paper to help our environment. Another thing is that we’re working with the transportation management services on a transportation system. Our initiatives are pretty big when it deals with trying to reduce pollution.”
Despite all of the changes, the goal of each convention remains the same—to build up support for the November election. Smith feels it’s important for young people to be involved in the political process and make informed decisions in the voting booth.
“The policies our leaders enact can have a dramatic affect on our lives, and it’s important that young people vote and play a role in deciding who those leaders will be,” he said. “If anything, the decisions our leaders make today affect young people more than many others, because we will have to live with the effects of those decisions for a lot longer.”
Look for more convention coverage from 8-18 Media in the October and November MM editions.
—8-18 Media

Editors Note: This story was written by Andrew LaCombe, 18; Erin Bozek-Jarvis, 14; Eric Wagner; 14 and Maggie Guter, 11; with contributions by Chelsea Parrish, 16; Emily Stulz, 16; Hayley Maskus, 15; Connor Stulz, 14; and Ben Harris, 13.

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