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When I was in kindergarten, my mom let me miss a day of school to hear John Kerry speak. It happened again, in the fourth grade, so I could see Barack Obama. Both times, the crowd was loud and energetic. But I kept quiet. I was a child; I didn’t have an interest in politics. Instead, I took the world in as a silent observer.
My mom doesn’t have to drag me to rallies anymore. You can find me in the press section. I’m now nearly 17, and I cover politics for my high school paper. I live in Iowa: a political battleground. So presidential candidates have been streaming in and out of my backyard all year.
And as a high school journalist, I’ve gotten a surprising amount of access. I’ve covered local politics and national political movements (such as Black Lives Matter). I’ve had one-on-one interviews with former Iowa Congressman Jim Leach and current Democratic candidate Martin O’Malley. A lot of the campaign events feel like politics as usual, regardless of the person at the center. But I have noticed that a lot of people my age feel differently about Bernie Sanders.
This fall, I went to cover a Bernie Sanders rally at a Coe College, a small school in Iowa. You may have heard that there’s a lot of excitement building around Sanders in Iowa right now. The event I covered had to be moved to a bigger space, because so many people RSVP’d to see Bernie live. A very distinct crowd turned up–almost exclusively very young or very old people. Maybe these are the people who believe change is still possible in the political process? They were all vocally eager to be a part of Sanders’ so called “political revolution.” And even from the press area, Sanders captivated me, too.
I don’t know if it’s his Brooklyn accent, or his impatience for small talk. But a lot of young people are excited by him. Something about him exudes authenticity to them. Watching that connection between an underdog candidate and some young Iowans, I could understand why my mom volunteered for Barack Obama, and why she wanted me to see all those rallies, even though I was too young to understand what was going on. That first-hand experience engages and excites people, and makes them feel change is possible.
There were several times when Sanders was speaking that I got caught up in the energy of the crowd. I would start to clap, but then stop myself. I was sandwiched between professional journalists from the Washington Post and the Des Moines Register. They didn’t have an emotional response to anything that Sanders said. They wore indifferent expressions and scribbled on their notebooks.
Of course, I tried to mirror their nonchalance and their professionalism. After all, as a teen sitting amidst a group of grownups, I didn’t want to come off as childish. And I had a job to do. Still, it was hard for me to contain my excitement. I won’t be able to vote in this election. But I’m at an age where I’m beginning to realize that politics matters It influences my city, my state, my country. Even though I won’t be 18 this November, I can still have a role to play. By volunteering, by reporting, by representing the issues and candidates in my school paper.