October 31, 2002

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A civic lesson for YSHS students

Yellow Springs High School students certainly seem to have made a positive impression on Washington, D.C., as part of a group of people who converged last weekend on our nation’s capital for a peace rally. YSHS students — wearing colorful yellow headbands and carrying banners and puppets — grabbed the attention of many adults. People noticed that a group of students gave up their weekend to travel to Washington for what is essentially a political issue: a possible war against Iraq. Jesse Jackson called them the leaders of the future.

We should be proud of our young people, many of whom are too young to vote in the Nov. 5 election. For them this trip was the ultimate lesson in civic engagement. And the students noticed and learned. Several said the day changed them and they now realize they can make a difference. They also learned that the people can have a voice in the world.

The students, organized by YSHS seniors Ashlee Cooper and Matt Wallace, defy the notion that today’s youth are only interested in materialistic things, TV and themselves. They showed passion, ambition, courage. They showed that they have the stuff to lead.

—Robert Mihalek

Why I believe in democracy

By Michael Hogan Jr.

Eleven years ago, Paul Wellstone, the former Democratic senator from Minnesota, voted against the first war with Iraq. He was one of only a handful to do so.

Three weeks ago, despite a fiercely close re-election campaign, Wellstone voted against another Bush administration’s war resolution, once again putting Wellstone in a small but vocal minority. It seems fitting that one of the first and last actions Wellstone took as a senator was to speak out against gross injustice.

Last Friday, Oct. 25, Wellstone, along with his wife, one of his daughters and several campaign staffers died when their plane went down on a cold, rainy day in Northern Minnesota.

In one of his previous campaigns, he told a crowd that he “stuck up for the little fellers, not the Rockefellers of the world.” Indeed, up until Wellstone came along, Congress had seen very little defense for issues related to workers, family farmers, the environment, human rights and veterans.

More than a decade since his first upset victory over a well-financed Republican, I can honestly say that Wellstone was (and still is) the reason I am a political science major, a voter and a believer in democracy. Wellstone wasn’t just a politician; to millions of people he was a voice. He was the collective assertion of the egalitarianism and progress that an entire society wanted dearly.

At first, the questions of who will take Wellstone’s place on the ballot Tuesday and the future of American politics seemed crass. Upon thinking on it further, I find those questions comforting. It shows that people care about the issues Senator Wellstone fought for over the course of his life. It shows that these issues aren’t just dissenting opinions, but instead, they go to the core of our hopes for the future. Wellstone taught America that progressive politics are still very potent in these times of conservatism, though I think his greatest accomplishment was simply letting ordinary people see that they can effect change themselves.

In a place like Yellow Springs you see people working for change every day: from Yellow Springs High School students Matt Wallace and Ashlee Cooper organizing a trip to an anti-war protest, to local residents running for office themselves, to a certain weekly newspaper that tries to do its part.

I write this not solely as a eulogy for Wellstone, but also as an encouragement. Our greatest responsibility to each other is to defend and expand these voices. Although my absentee ballot supporting Wellstone sits unopened right now in a bin somewhere in St. Paul, Minn., I only consider it partially invalid.

If you are registered to vote, whereever you are, please do so. One of the easiest yet most fundamental functions of democracy is exercising your right to choose those who will reflect our society in our state and national capitals.

• Michael Hogan Jr., a fourth-year student at Antioch College, is working on co-op as a reporter at the Yellow Springs News.