This week, I had the pleasure of moderating an unusual political forum. What made it out of the ordinary was that the assembled candidates—seven in total from three Colorado state races—refrained from the name-calling, inflammatory rhetoric, and general hostility that’s polluted this year’s national campaigns.
The audience—comprised primarily of about 60–70 area high-schoolers who are interested in politics—responded in kind. In 2016, it seems we only need to look to the children for guidance about how to better behave like adults.
As our presidential candidates exasperate Colorado and the rest of the nation, Inspire Colorado is building upon the idea that the younger we can get people more involved in our political process, the better that process, and our society at large, can become. The group is a local offshoot of Inspire U.S., a wing of the nonprofit and nonpartisan Project High Hopes, which leads educational and voter registration drives designed to expand teens’ and young adults’ participation in democracy.
The panelists at the event, hosted by History Colorado, comprised a fairly comprehensive swath of political philosophies, from Bernie Sanders-supporting liberals and Black Lives Matter activists to pro-gun, small-government, free market-oriented conservatives. Because the event, and Inspire’s mission, is intended to motivate young people to see the positive potential of a life in politics, the speakers were instructed beforehand to avoid any attacks on their opponents and speak only about what they have done or would do to address various issues.
If only certain more high-profile political office-seekers could follow these same guidelines. The program on Tuesday was explicitly not a debate, but rather a civilized and informative discussion of today’s most pressing topics. The teens themselves wrote and presented the questions to the panelists. These included queries about ending homelessness, easing college tuition burdens, creating educational opportunities for minority and poor children, ending gun violence, and assisting returning veterans. The mix of philosophies among the candidates provided an enlightening picture about how people from different backgrounds and viewpoints would address society’s most pressing concerns from their legislative seat.
Regardless of their conservative or liberal leanings going in, all the attendees left with a clearer idea of how “the other side” sees the world—and hopefully, with new perspectives about the value of compromise and the need to avoid one-size-fits-all solutions that simply don’t work in such a large, complex democracy.
Follow 5280 editor-at-large Luc Hatlestad on Twitter at @LucHatlestad.
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