Nearly 200 Chicago high school students, including many from the West Side, participated in the 15th annual Mikva Challenge campaign Dec. 13, which encourages students to volunteer on political campaigns.
Jones College Prep High School hosted the Saturday kickoff event. The challenge is named after former federal judge and U.S. Rep. Abner Mikva, who started the program wife his wife Zoe in 1999. Both saw an opportunity for young people to get involved early in the civic process.
Chicago high schoolers from more than 30 schools participated in this year’s challenge. The students are encouraged to volunteer on campaigns for aldermanic candidates, according to Meghan Goldenstein, elections and action program director for Mikva Challenge.
“If you campaign, you can actually have a greater impact than just voting, because you can get more than one vote for a candidate,” she said, adding that campaigning can really empower young people by being an integral part of the election process.
Students began that Saturday morning by participating in campaign workshops before meeting the candidates. Mayoral candidates Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, Bob Fioretti and Frederick Collins were also on hand to answer questions from students. William “Dock” Walls and Mayor Rahm Emanuel did not attend but sent representatives.
Austin resident Anthony Wise, a senior at George Westinghouse College Prep, 3223 W. Franklin, said high school students want to volunteer because “we all want to feel like we’re important.”
If an alderman is not living up to his or her word, Wise, 17, said, then young people should volunteer for challengers and “try to fight back and increase the level of communication and work ethic in the ward.”
Wise signed up to volunteer for 29th Ward candidate Bob Galhotra, who’s among 10 challengers against incumbent Deborah Graham’s seat on the city council.
Ald. Emma Mitts’ (37th) campaign received a volunteer commitment from 17-year-old Mimi Tsang. A senior at Thomas Kelly High School, 4136 S. California, Tsang decided to, in part, because she’s “inspired” by Mitts.
“This woman wants to make a change in her community and bring more opportunities to other people, and that kind of made me really happy,” she said.
Mitts is opposed by four candidates: Leroy Duncan, Maretta Brown-Miller, Otis Percy and Tara Stamps.
Getting young people to become involved early on in political campaigns, Stamps said, is “critical” to ensuring those young people stay politically active later in life.
“The only way we create and develop most-likely voters that we depend on for turnout is that we start grooming most-likely voters,” she said.
Austin resident and 29th Ward candidate Oddis “O.J.” Johnson said he wants to pass his political knowledge down to the next generation of political activists. Johnson’s been a community organizer for nearly 50 years. He said his experience with the Civil Rights Movement in the ’60s taught him the power of political activism.
“When people come out to vote and get involved — whether they’re young or old — in the political arena, they’re mad. When they get mad, they get fired up,” Johnson said. “When they get fired up, they vote. And when they vote, guess what? We have a change in regime.”