When former federal judge and U.S. Rep. Abner Mikva and his wife Zoe started Mikva Challenge in 1999, they saw an opportunity for young people to get involved early in the civic process.
The same spirit and drive to engage young people in political volunteerism was evident Saturday when the non-profit hosted its 15th annual Mikva Challenge campaign kickoff at Jones College Prep High School.
Almost 200 Chicago high school students from over 30 schools participated in the challenge, which encourages students to volunteer on campaigns for aldermanic candidates, said Meghan Goldenstein, elections and action program director for Mikva Challenge.
The experience of campaigning can really empower young people by giving them the opportunity and experience to be an integral part of the election process, Goldenstein said.
“If you campaign, you can actually have a greater impact than just voting because you can get more than one vote for a candidate,”she said.
Students began the morning by participating in campaign workshops before meeting the candidates.
Austin resident Anthony Wise, a senior at George Westinghouse College Prep, 3223 W. Franklin Blvd., said high school students want to volunteer because “we all want to feel like we’re important.”
If an alderman is not living up to his or her word, then young people should volunteer for challengers and “try to fight back and increase the level of communication and work ethic in the ward,” the 17-year-old said.
Anthony signed up to volunteer for 29th Ward candidate Bob Galhotra’s campaign. Galhorta is one of 10 challengers for Ald. Deborah Graham’s seat on the city council. (A 12th candidate – Deborah D. Williams – withdrew.)
Ald. Emma Mitts’ (37th) campaign received a commitment to volunteer from Mimi Tsang, a 17-year old senior at Thomas Kelly High School, 4136 S. California Ave, in part because Mimi said she’s “inspired” by Mitts.
“This woman wants to make a change in her community and bring more opportunities to other people,” Mimi said. “And that kind of made me really happy.”
Mitts is being opposed by four candidates: Leroy Duncan, Maretta Brown-Miller, Otis Percy and Tara Stamps.
Getting young people to become involved early on in political campaigns is “critical” to ensuring those young people stay politically active later in life, Stamps said.
“The only way we create and develop most-likely voters that we depend on for turnout is that we start grooming most-likely voters,” Stamps said.
Austin resident Oddis “O.J.” Johnson, one of the 12 candidates seeking the 29th Ward seat and a community organizer the past 50 years, said he wants to pass his political knowledge down to the next generation of political activists.
His experience with the civil rights movement in the ‘60s taught him the power of political activism, Johnson said.
“We people come out to vote and get involved, whether they’re young or old, in the political arena, they’re mad,” Johnson said. “When they get mad, they get fired up. When they get fired up, they vote. And when they vote, guess what? We have a change in regime.”
Students ended the day with a chance to hear from and ask questions of mayoral candidates Jesus “Chuy”Garcia, Bob Fioretti and Frederick Collins. William “Dock” Walls and Mayor Rahm Emanuel did not attend but sent representatives.