Republicans, Journalists and Manic Phone Calls – by Emma Burge
On August 26, high school students from all over the US arrived at the Homewood Suites by Hilton in Port Richey, Florida. The travel was an amazing feat in and of itself due to then tropical storm Isaac. Each one of us came from different economic, political, and personal backgrounds, but thanks to the Junior State of America we all united under a common goal. A goal that the youth of America will be the most politically informed generation to date and that we will make a difference in this world.
Once every four years, JSA takes a group of students to the Democrat and Republican National Conventions where they meet brilliant speakers, attend media functions, and typically gain access to the actual convention. After arriving at the hotel, I never once imagined that the RNC Symposium with the Junior State of America would be one of the best experiences of my life.
Shortly after entering Homewood Suites, we began introducing ourselves to one another and started self-run debates out on the patio. I had never been with a group of people that were just as or even more politically active than me. Our debates spanned throughout the week as the students’ political views ranged from 9/11 Truthers, staunch Republicans, progressive Democrats, Ron Paul Libertarians, and even a Birther that wanted to see Obama’s health records. After the first night of orientation we found out that sleep was a luxury and we would not get more than about four hours throughout the week. We went to our rooms by 11:30 p.m. and had to board the buses by 5:15 a.m.
The first day of activities included meeting the founder of Politifact, a professor at the Poynter Institute, the vice president of Fox News Radio, and going to a breakfast at the Politico Hub with Karl Rove. Oh and not to mention all of the frantic phone calls that were sent out that night…the many, many phone calls. The problem was that when entering the program most of us believed that we would be given passes to gain access into the convention, but that is not guaranteed by JSA. We would have to establish our own connections to gain them. That basically meant that groups of teenagers were huddled on the floor in their hallways at 11:00 at night calling Congressmen, Senators, Delegations, and various National media outlets trying to obtain passes. Surprisingly, many of the people that we called came through (SN: Thank you Congressman Cantor!). JSA staff used their contacts and picked up the coveted credentials from hotels across the city. The combination of staff and student outreach paid off and by Wednesday night every student entered the convention with a pass.
The speakers got better as the week continued as we met Jimmy LaSalvia (founder of GOProud), Ann Stone (founder of Republicans for Choice), The Governor of Iowa, Josh and Tagg Romney, Andrew Jenks, Chelsea Clinton, Newt Gingrich and many others. Many of us were also interviewed at these speaking engagements by Danish TV, local media stations, E! News, Showtime, and several other networks. Select students from different states were invited to have breakfast with their state’s delegation where students were able to hear speeches from the likes of Gov. Chris Christy and Gov. Rick Perry.
A sub-category of students at the symposium were those involved with the Junior Correspondents Program (JCP) led by Dr. Stephen Caliendo of North Central College and Dr. Charlton McIlwain of New York University. Students in JCP were there to report about the experience for some sort of media outlet and were given a few extra opportunities in the field of journalism. While with JCP, I accompanied Dr. Mcilwain to an interview at CNN and was able to see the inner workings of a live broadcast and met Sen. Rick Santorum and former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.
On Thursday, thanks to student outreach and JSA’s connections, all students once again got to make it into the convention and this time for the big finale. Some students were able to nab floor credentials from their state delegations and elected officials, whereas I managed to obtain a Level 4 seat with delegation guests thanks to a wonderful delegation chair. Even if you were in the Level 6 nosebleeds however, the experience of the music playing and the balloons and confetti falling was incredible no matter how high up you were sitting.
Regardless of political affiliations, age, or backgrounds, everyone that I met at the RNC symposium are people that will stay with me for years to come. There is no doubt in my mind that I will keep in contact with this wonderful community and that we will make a difference in the world. We are JSA. We are the future.