More than 100 teens from Chicago and the suburbs are in Des Moines, Iowa this weekend to campaign for Democratic presidential candidates ahead of the Iowa caucus next month.
Mikva Challenge, which promotes civic engagement among teens, organized the trip. The idea is to put high school students at the center of the national political debate and to elevate their voices.
“Even though they can’t vote, they can still have political power,” said Larry Dean, with Mikva Challenge. “They can still organize and advocate for things they want to do and know the importance of the electoral process,”
Des Moines plays an essential role in the nation’s first presidential caucus on February 3. This trip is the first-of-a-kind for most of the students, many of whom have never been to Iowa. Some students said they were excited and nervous at the same time.
“I feel like is very important to get involved just because it’s politics and this is the country we are living in,” said Magali Romero, a junior at Instituto Health Sciences Career Academy on the Southwest Side. “It’s a democracy and as a democracy we all have to contribute.” Magali will be campaigning for Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren.
Romero is one of 75 students from Chicago. They are traveling with high school students from other suburbs, including Naperville, North Chicago and Buffalo Grove.
With 12 Democratic presidential candidates running, the students are expected to campaign for one of their first two choices. They’ll be phone banking, door knocking, and visiting the national campaign headquarters of candidates like Warren, Andrew Yang and Bernie Sanders.
On Saturday, they’ll take part in a youth summit. With more of a caucus setup, the students will gather in small groups to discuss the issues — rather than the candidates — they care about, including climate change, immigration, LGBTQ issues and jobs for teens.
But this opportunity isn’t just about politics or the Iowa caucuses, said Sabrina Anfossi-Kareem, an English teacher at Instituto Health Sciences. It’s also about experiencing something completely new.
“We had conversations with students about the demographics in Iowa, and how it’s not as diverse as Chicago,” Anfossi-Kareem said. “And that’s part of what this experience I think is … seeing what that’s like and learning from [it]”
Adriana Cardona-Maguigad covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter at @WBEZeducation and @AdrianaCardMag.