Saturday's Promote the Vote rally at Lawrence High School netted more than two dozen new voters, while speakers from the halls of politics, education and the environment told LHS and Free State High School students about the importance of political involvement.
U.S. Rep. Nancy Boyda praised the students for their involvement, then blasted President Bush for continuing to use warrantless wiretaps as a means of surveillance.
State Rep. Barbara Ballard was cited by several students as being an effective and inspirational speaker. She told the group that diverging viewpoints were important, and that participation in politics can be gratifying.
"I'd like to encourage all of you to give back. Because when you give back, you get back," she said.
State Rep. Paul Davis urged students to get involved in campaigns and issues that are important to them, especially on the state and local level. He said that even though Kansas voters have traditionally supported Republicans, having a more bipartisan state Legislature could benefit the state.
"I'd like to see this become a true two-party state," he said. "I say that as someone who is concerned with good government. When you have one party that consistently wins elections : you don't get the best government."
The event was organized by the LHS Young Democrats, and included speeches by Ballard, Davis, state Sen. Marci Francisco, Boyda, local environmentalist Simran Sethi, and State Board of Education members Bill Wagnon and Janet Waugh.
LHS junior Casey Maxon, president of the school's Young Republicans, said he wished more Republicans were able to participate.
"I do wish we had a little more support," he said, adding that overall he was impressed with the message of involvement given by the speakers.
Despite the lack of Republican speakers, Maxon said, "We're just as in support of getting people to vote" as Democrats.
LHS Young Democrats President Stephanie Jian, who organized the event, said she was inspired by the speakers. She said Sethi's message that "we are all activists" stuck out in particular.
"The resounding message was that everyone's special. Even if it's just one vote, even if it's just one thing in your daily life, it will add up," Jian said.
She said the event helped register more than twice as many voters as last year's inaugural Promote the Vote rally.
"I hope that a lot of people can say they are proud that they registered to vote," she said.
Free State sophomore Cypress Frankenfeld won't be 18 by November, but he came to the rally to educate himself about the issues, particularly the environment and the war on terror.
"I'm just trying to talk to other people to learn more for when I can vote," he said. "I'm just sad I can't vote."
Boyda told the group of several dozen students that she appreciated their interest in politics.
"We're leaving you guys a mess," she said.
She decried the divisive nature of politics, saying the Republicans have tried to align themselves with Christian values, while painting Democrats as "ungodly and unpatriotic."
"That kind of engagement turns the questions off. 'If someone's patriotic and godly, what more do I need to know?' " she said. "Who do you think wins?"
Harsh words for Bush
One student asked Boyda about the debate surrounding warrantless wiretapping. Boyda unequivocally voiced her dismay with Congress's lack of action to curb warrantless wiretapping.
"The foundation of our democracy : is at stake in the House of Representatives," she said. She said Bush's attempts to stifle inquiries into wiretapping and the role of telecom companies was "a massive cover-up : because he doesn't want you to know that the Constitution has been shredded and he doesn't want you to know how long" wiretapping has been happening.
She also told the students how she became involved in politics. She recalled the struggles of her first congressional campaign, which she lost by 15 percentage points. But, she said, she was determined to campaign again.
"It's really about this thing called democracy, and having a conversation about the issues," she said.