Political Season 2016 ~ Post 1: Immersion Learning at Simulated Democratic Conventions in 1972

Early this year, the BBC published a piece

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I rarely post about political issues or particular political races, but I believe the political process is important to participate in, and I’ve had some important experiences in politics that have shaped my perspective as an activist for social transformation. So, in this political season of 2016, I plan to post a few recollections from 50+ years of involvement.

From very early on, the political process became an interest of mine, later a passion, and eventually my first major in college. I went to my first political meeting when I was just 9 years old — and I asked my parents if I could go! The year was 1963. Something about the democratic process intrigued me, even as a youngster, and I wanted to know more. Maybe it was all the colorful campaign buttons I saw people wearing, or the “I like Ike” button I remember seeing in a political pin collection. Also, our family often watched the national and international news on TV and those topics became sources of discussion. So I did have some level of awareness even back then of how the political process could potentially affect society.

When I was in fifth grade, I was elected class representative, which meant I participated in the student council meetings for reps from the fifth through eighth grades. In eighth grade, I was ran for student council president. And in high school, I got involved in student government, joined a number of related ongoing clubs, and helped plan and implement many one-time events.

The presidential election of 1972 brought with it numerous political activities for high schoolers — simulated conventions, campaign rallies, opportunities for interviews for the school newspaper. Speech classes and debate clubs used issues from political platforms as topics. And one group of my friends (today we’d be labeled as “political geeks” or “policy nerds”) went to two mock Democratic conventions. One convention was just for local-area high school students, the other for students from regional high schools and colleges. Each lasted two to three full days. Regardless of one’s personal political stance, these were great opportunities to learn more about the party nomination and policy-making processes, as well as political negotiation, collaboration, and compromise to achieve common ground.

(As a side note, there wasn’t a mock Republican convention that year. That was likely because with Richard Nixon as incumbent, that pretty much everything in the process and platform would’ve been set already. Not quite the same caliber of immersion learning experience, which I’ve come to see as a premium opportunity to learn, and one that definitely needs to be offered more often.)

At the high-school-only convention, several things turned out to be memorable. One was witnessing political conflicts that were based in differing faith convictions. There were contingents from several Catholic high schools, and they were pro-life at a time when political issues surrounding abortion were still incredibly volatile. Another key opportunity was that I got to see how several students sincerely tried applying their skills to negotiate some trade-offs on policy issues in order to create a more united platform. For both of these, I was in more of a middle-ring of involvement, but at least it was a start.

At the combination high school/college convention, the most memorable part for me was the presentation of the presidential candidates — and especially the introduction given for Representative Shirley Chisholm. When the time came to vote for the nominee, the groups for each presidential candidate had about 5 minutes for a “demonstration” to introduce their candidate and show their support. Most groups gave short speeches and/or waved banners and signs. Nothing particularly memorable happened — except for with one candidate.

To this day, I remember the demonstration for Shirley Chisholm. Oh, wow … they took us to church! Those promoting her held up slogan signs and pictures of Rep. Chisholm, while slowly chant-singing and clapping: “Power to the people – power to the people! Right on!” It was like a choir processional, starting in the back of the convention hall and progressing up and down the aisles among the delegates. By the time they finished their sauntering rounds of the hall, the whole audience was at least clapping with them. They made such an impression that — 44 years later — I can still sing those lines to the tune they used …

The other demonstrations may have been energizing, but only the one on behalf of Rep. Shirley Chisholm was electrifying! It was important for me to learn how politics could be like “inspirational espresso” to get people going. Just one other political event I’ve participated in had that kind of effect … but that’s a story for another post.

Meanwhile, consider finding out more about Shirley Chisholm — the first African-American congresswoman, and, in 1972, the first African-American major-party candidate for president, and first woman to run for the role as the Democratic Party’s nominee. It will provide some good background for my next post, which has to do with thinking through the long view on the changing roles of women in the civic square.