|By SHELLY STRAUTZ-SPRINGBORN
ALMA, Mich. — Michigan Farm Bureau’s (MFB) Young People’s Citizenship Seminar (YPCS) is more than a lesson in American democracy.
About 180 high schoolers, primarily juniors and seniors, converged on Alma College June 12-16 for the conference. The weeklong event offered participants an interactive political workshop that culminated in a mock election, as well as leadership training.
“One of the big goals is to learn about the democratic process and to learn about the importance of voting,” said Megan Wheaton, MFB associate national legislative counsel and YPCS coordinator.
She said the event also focuses on “self esteem, community involvement and being a good citizen.”
“We try to weave in political messages and get the students to determine their own way,” Wheaton said.
Throughout the week the participants are involved in every aspect of the political process. Early on they are divided into three parties – 40 percent are Federalists (Feds), 40 percent are Populists (Pops) and 20 percent are Independents.
Mirroring the American democratic process, students must register to vote at the Secretary of State. In addition, they learn about offices that they could run for, ranging from sheriff or register of deeds to a state representative or Supreme Court justice. Throughout the week they participate in mock rallies, caucuses and campaigns and they vote using optical scan voting equipment.
While both the Feds and Pops are busy campaigning for their candidates and their positions on four ballot proposals, they also must figure out how to win the necessary votes from the 20 percent of Independents. Each participant is given a stipend to support their personal campaigns or to support their political party. The students utilize traditional campaigning methods, such as posters, commercials, advertising and face-to-face campaigning.
“They use their money like campaign dollars,” Wheaton said. “Other candidates have to convince them to give them money.”
The YPCS participants were eager to show their political affiliations mid-week, cheering on their parties and candidates during an evening gathering.
“I’m learning about primaries and how they go through all the political steps. I’ve also learned about public speaking,” said 15-year-old Jennifer Campbell of Johannesburg in Otsego County.
Meghan Bonthuis, 16, of Muskegon County, said she was busy campaigning for office and enjoyed making a commercial to promote her campaign.
“I’m running for treasurer. I made it through the first round so I’ll run in the general election,” she said.
Seventeen-year-old Christian Prowse of Peck in Sanilac County said he tried running for sheriff as a Populist.
“I thought I talked to enough people, but I guess not,” he said. But, Prowse wasn’t discouraged by his first taste of the political process. “I liked going to the polls and getting a feel for it,” he said.
Like many of the participants, 16-year-old Chelsea Brasher of Hudson in Lenawee County, said she enjoyed the variety of motivational speakers and learning about the political process.
The caucuses are “energetic,” she said.
While Fruitport-area resident Patricia Marston lost her bid for sheriff after deciding to run “at the last minute” the Federalist Party participant said the outcome didn’t matter to her.
“It was kind of hard because a lot of people already had signed for the other precincts and it was hard getting people to sign petitions, but I got a good feeling for the process,” she said.
On the other hand, 16-year-old Brittany Workman, also of Fruitport made a late bid for Precinct 4 delegate and won. “It was fun. I was doing last minute campaigning. We made posters and I hung them on bathroom doors. I figured everyone uses the bathrooms,” she said, giggling.
The students, represented 52 county Farm Bureaus throughout Michigan.
This farm news was published in the June 21, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.