The High School Democrats of Iowa held their kick-off event this weekend, looking to expand their membership throughout the state in a more formal structure. Young activists gathered at Drake University for their inaugural event and to meet local candidates whose campaigns they could volunteer on.
“This year especially with Trump running, we’re seeing a lot of division. Young people need to get involved because this is our future,” said Syndney Uhlman, 15, of Des Moines. “Everyone has an opinion, we hope to give them a voice.”
At times in the past in Iowa, the high school groups have been organized under the Young Democrats’ banner. This one is being done in partnership with the College and Young Democrats of Iowa. They’re aiming to start up local chapters at high schools around the state – some already exist, but there’s not much statewide coordination or sharing of resources currently.
Many high schoolers got involved in the Iowa Caucus campaigns and have stayed active since. Several Polk County students have been volunteering and interning on the local Iowa House campaigns.
“I can’t make my voice heard by checking a box, but I can go door-knocking,” said Kathryn Ikeda, 16. “There’s so many ways kids our age who are so passionate about these issues, but they don’t know how to get involved. By forming High School Democrats of Iowa we’re going to aim at establishing local chapters at high schools, get them information on how to lobby, how to canvass.”
Many elected officials and local candidates were on hand to encourage the students. House Minority Leader Mark Smith, Senator Rob Hogg and candidates Jennifer Konfrst, Maridith Morris, Andrea Phillips and Heather Matson.
“I am so hopeful looking out and seeing the faces of all these young people, that we’re turning this over to a group of young people who no longer feel that there should be discrimination against people because of the color of their skin,” Smith told the group. “That there should no longer be discrimination against people because of their gender. There should no longer be discrimination because of their sexual orientation.”
Hogg talked about the legislation they’ve passed in Iowa to further build up the clean energy industry, which has provided jobs for young Iowans. One of his former constituents is graduating from the University of Iowa this year with a degree in sustainability and has a job at Eagle Point Solar in Dubuque.
“I’m excited to have you get involved,” Hogg said. “My first election that I participated in was 1984 when I was a senior in high school, City High in Iowa City, and I didn’t do the most, but I went door-to-door to get Tom Harkin elected to the Senate. You can not only make a difference now, but you can lay the foundation for a future of public engagement.”
Polls this year have consistently shown that young voters are overwhelming opposed to Donald Trump’s candidacy. Those even younger than that likely follow the same trends. But many aren’t completely sold on Hillary Clinton or the Democratic Party as a whole, so the High School Democrats of Iowa effort will be key in actually turning that frustration into long-lasting voting behavior and civic engagement.
Those interested in starting a chapter at their local high school, or connecting their current one with the statewide organization, can contact Ellie Konfrst at firstname.lastname@example.org
By Pat Rynard