Political engagement, bipartisan, civic participation, advocacy skills, political activism
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Of/By/For/RI: The Rhode Island Student Political Boot Camp
Sponsor: Maureen Moakley, Political Science
“Election? What Election?” The 2011 Princeton Review rankings selected the University of Rhode Island in this category as one of the 20 most apathetic colleges in the country. When I asked students on URI’s campus why they did not engage in activism, the most common answer was they felt they lacked the knowledge and skills to be effective. I wanted to create a community of youth activists at URI and other colleges and high schools throughout Rhode Island who feel empowered to take action on the issues they care about. This culminated in the weekend-long RI Student Political Boot Camp created Of, By, and For Rhode Island students.
I served as the Executive Director for the Boot Camp Steering Committee comprised of 15 students from URI, Brown University, Rhode Island College and North Kingstown High School who are involved with organizations like College Democrats, College Republicans, or Democracy Matters. We worked for 6 months to garner resources and to establish connections with college and high school faculty and students, financial sponsors and local elected officials. As well, we created the program agenda and executed the logistics of a three-day, statewide training. Despite differing political viewpoints, the Steering Committee leaders were united by the goal of supporting students to become more informed and engaged members of our political process.
Of/By/For/RI: The Rhode Island Student Political Boot Camp was a three day, statewide, bipartisan, political and issue advocacy empowerment training, at no charge to participants, held at the University of Rhode Island on November 18-20, 2011. 2004 Presidential Candidate, Governor Howard Dean kicked off the event with an inspiring keynote address, discussing the similarities and differences among youth activism now versus the 1960s. Saturday and Sunday were full-day trainings on all the aspects of getting involved in politics and issue advocacy. We offered trainings on essential skill sets of political activism from political experts and elected officials. These experts, from both national conservative and progressive organizations led training sessions on the skills that students need to know to get their issue to be taken seriously at the political level. Trainings included: Persuasive Communication, Volunteer Recruitment and Development, Field Organizing, Voter Targeting, Citizen Lobbying, New Media, Messaging and Fundraising. We concluded with a resume workshop and Jobs/Internship Fair for students to gain firsthand experience utilizing the skills they had learned.
The RI Student Political Boot Camp weekend was an overwhelming success. Over 150 students participated, representing 15 different colleges and high schools from across Rhode Island. Since the event, many participants have become volunteers with local political organizations, some started new student chapters of civic organizations at their own campuses, and others are working across campuses to effect statewide change on issues such as campaign finance reform, homelessness, and voter registration initiatives. This event has empowered and engaged a new group of young leaders to take ownership of their community and has sparked a culture of activism, cooperation and collaboration among youth throughout Rhode Island. Our goal is to make this an annual event rotating among different Rhode Island host universities.
Keywords: Political engagement, bipartisan, civic participation, advocacy skills, political activism