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University of Minnesota students at the Democratic National Convention

From left to right, U of M students Peggy Flannagen, Katie Tilley, Kara Nelson, Sara Kloek, and Priya Outar on the Democratic convention floor.

Young patriots: U of M students get involved in the political process

U of M students get involved in the political process

By Jamie Proulx

Published on August 6, 2004

With Jon Stewart, the host of Comedy Central's news satire "The Daily Show," fast becoming one of the most popular "news anchors" for the under-30 set, it warrants some attention from the Presidential candidates.

President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry are in a statistical dead heat in the 2004 presidential election, and political observers say it will stay that way until November 2. The end result lies in the hands of about 10 percent of America's voters--dubbed the swing votes--and many of those people are college students. It's no wonder the Democratic National Convention Committee invited Jon Stewart and crew to cover the convention.

Bush and Kerry should be happy to know the coveted student voice is being nourished and encouraged at the University of Minnesota. Sara Kloek, Tyler Richter, and Lark Weller are living proof of that.

Each of these students has his or her own political philosophy, but they all speak about a common goal: urging young people to find their voice and to be involved in the world around them.

Sara Kloek: Democrat

As student body president at the University of Minnesota, Morris, Kloek has already immersed herself in public service. But after seeing little student involvement at the seventh district convention two years ago, she felt there was work to be done. That's why she and Chris Montana, state president of the College Democrats, organized a bus trip to Boston for the Democratic National Convention called the "Young Patriot Tour." Thirty-one students joined Kloek and Montana for a trip that included campaign stops in Milwaukee, Toledo, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia.

"The national convention is one of the biggest democratic processes to take place every four years," Kloek says. "We wanted to find some way to get young people out to Boston to be a part of that, and the bus trip helped us do that."

Kloek was also lucky enough to serve as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention (one of the youngest in the country at age 20) where she joined other Minnesotans in nominating Kerry and Edwards to the ticket.

"The excitement had been building all week and the roll call was just another layer," Kloek says. "The best part was signing your name on the ballot. You pass it around on the floor and all the delegates check the box next to the person you're voting for."

When asked why she believes it's important for students to get involved, Kloek responds with a litany of important issues that need tending including the "skyrocketing deficit," rising college tuition, and the job outlook post-graduation. But most of all she says, "Get involved because it's our future."

Tyler Richter: Republican

Tyler Richter, a senior at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, joined the College Republicans on the first day of classes his freshman year. Since then he has successfully attended 100 consecutive meetings of the group. "That's gotta be some sort of record," Richter says.

So when you see the card table advertising that first [political]group meeting in the fall, Richter says, sign up and get involved.

Richter remembers the first time he became interested in what Republicans had to say. He had just completed Ronald Reagan's autobiography An American Life and something inside him clicked.

"It tuned me in to the conservative ideals," Richter says. "When I turned 18, it really made me think about the role I wanted to play, and I knew I would get involved in politics when I went to college."

As Kloek did, Tyler also will attend his party's convention in late August. He will be a volunteer and credits his affiliation with the College Republicans--affectionately known as the CRs--for getting him the gig. He encourages other students to take advantage of the opportunities political groups like the College Republicans can offer.

"We go to Washington, D.C. once a year and attend other political conferences around the country," Richter says. "And when vice-president Cheney was in town just a few weekends ago, I drove in his motorcade and got to speak with him for a few seconds. I've also had the same opportunity with President Bush."

So when you see the card table advertising that first [political] group meeting in the fall, Richter says, sign up and get involved.

Lark Weller: Non-partisan

Working somewhere in the middle is Lark Weller, a graduate student at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. Weller works in the Center for the Study of Politics with national political expert Larry Jacobs on the 2004 Elections Project. Their goal is to provide non-partisan analysis about the 2004 elections. They focus specifically on the voters and issues of the Upper Midwest battleground states of Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, and South Dakota. (See UMNnews story, Humphrey Survey:The Upper Midwest battleground.)

Weller enjoys her time working on the project. "It's great to work with [Larry Jacobs] who has such experience and to get an insider's point of view," Weller says. And she enjoys her colleagues who, like her, believe that being involved in public life is important and that it's possible to make needed changes in the world.

Along with her work on the Elections Project, Weller's job includes coordinating a new student group called the Student Public Affairs Coalition. Their goal is to get out the vote on campus and eventually get more students involved in the political process for years to come.

"It's a non-partisan group of about 15 to 20 people and we hope to get students more involved both on and off campus," Weller says. "We want people outside the University community to understand that students are interested and that our issues are important."

Weller is not unlike most citizens when she says she'd like to see the experts more engaged in real-world happenings. She says too often there are great discussions about political philosophies but, at the end of the day, the problems around us still exist. Weller hopes to take her passion for political involvement with her post-graduation. Through her studies she's focusing on urban planning and is interested in learning how political engagement can help citizens at the local level better their neighborhoods.

One vision

Each of these students has his or her own political philosophy, but they all speak about a common goal: urging young people to find their voice and to be involved in the world around them. They all cite similar issues of importance: rising tuition costs, finding a job, and national security.

Their appreciation for who came before them as student activists was apparent in this response from Kloek. When asked if she met any exciting people in Boston, she said yes, but her star sighting did not revolve around Ben Affleck or Al Franken. "The coolest thing for me was meeting [Georgia] Representative John Lewis," Kloek says. Lewis was one of the premiere student activists of the civil rights movement throughout the 60s later becoming a top legislator. Kloek, Richter, and Weller may just follow in his footsteps someday.

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