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Missouri Teens Head To Iowa To Learn About Caucuses, Political Campaigns Up Close

Seven of the 21 Clayton High School students who will soon travel to Iowa to take part in the presidential races try to pose for a group photo. Jan. 8, 2020
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio
Seven of the 21 Clayton High School students who will soon travel to Iowa to take part in the presidential races try to pose for a group photo.

Despite an entire semester of AP Gov at Clayton High School, Cassy Bennett still doesn’t know exactly how the Iowa caucuses work. 

“So I’d like to learn what that is,” the 17-year-old senior said, adding  through her laugh she doesn’t blame her teacher.

Bennett and 20 of her classmates hope to have a better idea of the quirky electoral practice after they spend the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend in Iowa volunteering for political campaigns and observing rallies. 

There’s no extra credit on the line.

The students are instead going to Iowa as part of a national effort by the nonpartisan organization Mikva Challenge to get teens engaged and involved in politics and civic activism. The challenge is named for former Illinois congressman and federal judge Abner Mikva.

Mikva has been busing teens to Iowa since the 2000 election. While the teens tend to lean progressive, they’re allowed to volunteer for any candidate they want and are encouraged to check out candidates they don’t always agree with.

“I think there are a lot more ways to be politically active than just voting because there’s other ways to have your voice heard, and it’s kind of our responsibility as citizens, even if you’re young, to be able to do that,” said 17-year-old Saniya Sah. 

Although many of them get political coverage through Snapchat, the students said they’re not scared of talking to strangers about the issues they care about. 

Those issues include race relations, income inequality, guns and health care.

“It’s pretty easy to see, at least from our perspective, that all of these issues either will affect us one day, or they are affecting us now through our parents or other things,” said Emily Bober, 17.

They all said politics today is too polarized. 

“I think the polarization of political views has really helped these politicians,” said 18-year-old Ben Williams. “I just think it’s more important to look at the big picture and what’s beneficial to everyone rather than just the people who voted for you.”

More than 300 high schoolers from Illinois, Missouri, Michigan, Texas, Wisconsin, California, Oregon and Washington, D.C., will campaign through the Mikva Challenge.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

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