Terry McAuliffe is the chairman of the DemocraticNational Committee and thus is spearheading the Convention which will take placein Boston this July. He met with students at Dorchester High lastfall.
I understand that Communism has negative aspects, likepeople not having freedom of speech or the press, and lacking many opportunities.But Cuba, a communist country, gives every citizen a free higher education. Whycan't America, a democracy, do the same?
I think the Democratic Partywould like to ensure that everyone has rights and gets a quality highereducation. That's one of the main issues I believe people want when they vote inNovember 2004: the issue of education and the disastrous education policies ofGeorge Bush who has continued to underfund education. He promised he would buildnew classrooms, modernize classrooms, and train new teachers. He hasn't followedthrough on any of these. But the Democratic Party strongly believes that everyoneshould be entitled to a quality education.
Democracy means equalopportunity for all. Are we really a democratic country? If yes, how?
Weclearly are a democratic country. A democracy means that you elect your leadersand every vote will be counted. Clearly we know that did not happen in 2000. AlGore, as you know, got a half million more votes than George Bush, and persons ofcolor were disenfranchised at voting booths around America. This has been a majortopic for the Democratic Party. We have pushed very hard, and Connecticut senatorChris Dodd and others have been making sure we have true election reform.Intimidation tactics were used in 2000 for persons of color, and in 2002 inDetroit, where several Republicans were arrested (as well as in Maryland and PineBluffs, Arkansas). We need to make sure that everyone who has a right to vote canwalk into a polling booth, cast their vote and have their vote counted. That iswhat the Democratic Party stands for, and we promise that in 2004, that willhappen.
Those between 18 and 24 have the lowest percentage ofvoting. If the political parties can't even get young, eligible people to vote,why do you think your efforts to reach teens will work?
You're right, thelowest voting group are these young people. I, as chair of the national party,have been dismayed. I really thought after September 11, with everyone feelingpatriotic and flying flags on their front porches, that young people would comeout in record numbers in 2002, but that was not the case.
We need to makesure we do that in 2004. That is why we are here in Boston today, to speak atDorchester High about initiatives the Party is doing to get young people involvedin the political process. That's why we've announced a nationwide contest thatcalls for young people between 13 and 18 to write an essay, and we will pick ayoung person who will actually do what the chairman normally does: gavel open theDemocratic National Convention in July. And we are asking college students towrite essays about what politics means for their community and what it means tothem. That winner will make a speech on prime-time TV in front of 100 millionpeople. So we are doing what we can to get young people active, engaged, earlierthan ever before.
Young people cannot tell me that their vote doesn'tcount, it does. In the 2000 Florida election, a shift of a couple hundred votesand Al Gore would be in the White House today. We won the state of New Mexico in2000 by 300 votes. Every vote does matter, and you've got to understand this isabout your future.
Affirmative action is a card that has beenplaced on the table for quite some time. There are many arguments regardingit.
You're talking to the chairman of the Democratic National Committee,not the Republican National Committee. It is the Republicans who want toeliminate affirmative action. This is one illustration of Bush, in his rhetoricwhere it's not reality. His administration filed the amicus brief with the U.S.Supreme Court to eliminate affirmative action. The Supreme Court correctlydecided (in a 5-4 decision) that diversity is a key element in education. AndGeorge Bush came out the next day and applauded the decision. So, the DemocraticParty has always been strongly in favor of the Civil Rights Act, Voting RightsAct - all passed under Democratic presidents. The Democratic Party stands verytall and very firm. We are the party for affirmative action, and the Republicansare not.
Why did so many Democrats vote to go to war in Iraq whenthere was no hard evidence showing Iraq was a threat? And why are so many againstthe war now?
Our legislators did vote with the President on that issuebecause they believed George Bush. Now, it turns out he misled the public. Heembellished intelligence data, insinuating that Iraq was buying yellow uraniumwhich was totally false. I remind you that in the days leading up to the IraqWar, George Bush told us Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
Secretary Rumsfeld told us he knew exactly where they were. VicePresident Cheney told us that Saddam Hussein was, in essence, fueling nuclearrods and could build a nuclear bomb. And many Americans believedthat.
When your president and your secretary of defense and your vicepresident speak, they have a lot more intelligence data than anyone else. Now, Ithink everyone has learned a lesson in dealing with this president. I won't sayhe lied, yet, but I will clearly say that he misled the American people, and heclearly embellished and politicized intelligence data to justify going towar.
The Democratic Party has always been associated with theworking class, as well as racial and ethnic minorities. Why is this, and is thatchanging? What's wrong with the Republicans? They are not all bad people. Are youteaching us to hate Republicans? And what makes you guys different?
Firstof all, you shouldn't hate anyone. I'm the chairman of the opposition party, andI don't hate George Bush. We have serious disagreements over policy issues. Thisis what a democracy is all about. We have
different viewpoints about howwe think our country should be governed, and it's our responsibility to speak outwhen we think our president has gone in a wrong direction.
The Democratsdo have resounding support from working-class Americans because it's theDemocratic Party (if you look at our history) that has always stood with workingfamilies.
We are for quality education, we are for quality health care,we want to make sure everyone can get a job, can provide for their family, thatgrandparents and other family members can live in dignified retirement. We don'twant to see senior citizens sitting at home and worrying, Should I pay my rent orbuy the medicine I need this month?
And it's the Democrats who havefought hard, and in the eight years under Clinton, everyone prospered. Clinton'sadministration created more millionaires and billionaires than in the history ofthis country, but at the same time, more people moved out of poverty. Everybodybenefitted. We had more cops on the street, more teachers in classrooms, peoplehad money in their pockets. We were building more schools, as well as modernizingthem.
That's what the Democratic Party stands for. Clinton got out of bedevery day trying to made sure that the average Joe got a shot at the AmericanDream. Bill Clinton was born in a house with a dirt floor in Hope, Arkansas andgrew up to be the President. That's what the Democratic Party is all about.Opportunity. Community.
There is a popular perception thatpoliticians lie and do whatever it takes to get elected. Why do they have such abad reputation? Why should I, and other teenagers, trust what you have tosay?
Oh, I would say that 99 percent of those in public office are therefor the right reasons. They go out and work very hard every day to try to betterothers' lives.
I disagree with the President on so many issues, but thatdoesn't mean he is a bad person. He is not a liar. But listen, we are thegreatest democracy in the world. They work hard, serve the public, and I have tosay that the millions of people who have been elected to office, from the lowestto the highest levels, are very sincere individuals who work hard. We should holdthem in high esteem.
What piece of legislation do you think hasmost affected teens during the past 10 years? What legislation would you mostlike to see passed that would affect teens?
One of the most successfulprograms aimed at young people has been AmeriCorps, which President Bill Clintonfounded as a domestic version of the Peace Corps. AmeriCorps has put over 250,000teens to work in their communities during the past 10 years, providing them theopportunity to earn college scholarships for their service. Most important, ithelps nurture public awareness that will serve them and their neighbors longafter they're done.
Unfortunately, in spite of President Bush's repeatedpromises to protect AmeriCorps, his administration has gutted it with drasticbudget cuts. While President Bush pledged to increase the number of AmeriCorpsvolunteers to 75,000, the program has seen its volunteers dwindle from 70,000 to50,000. It's time for the president to keep his promise and protect a programworth saving. Congress should send a message to the President by passing S. 1276,a bill to restore AmeriCorps' funding.
Even though I'm just 17,I've already had friends killed by guns. I've even had to run for my life. Itamazes me that the U.S. can take over a country the size of Iraq and spend $150billion to make it safe, yet we are told the country lacks the manpower orfunding to make the streets of Boston safe for me. What can we do to get the samecommitment for America that we seem to have for Iraq?
If we've learnedanything from the war in Iraq, it's that making the streets safer, whether abroador at home, is never as easy as it seems. Months after President Bush declaredvictory in the Iraq, we are still losing more than one service person each day.The president finally realizes that making Iraq safe will take an even deepercommitment than originally thought. We need the same heightened commitment tokeep our families and friends protected here in the U.S. It begins with a promiseto provide local law enforcement with necessary resources. In the 1990s,President Clinton began Community Oriented Police Officers (COPS), whose goal wasto put 100,000 new officers on the streets. During his term, we had the lowestcrime rate in 25 years. Under Bush, crime has been on the rise, and Democratshave fought to keep the COPS program.
It is clear that mostprivate schools are better funded and equipped than public schools (like mine).In my school, we don't have AP courses, art, music or other classes we need tosucceed. They tell us it is because of budget cuts, but our limited educationputs us at a great disadvantage when applying to college. What can be done tocreate a truly level playing field so all high-school students have the sameopportunities?
Your teachers and administrators are absolutely correctwhen they point to budget cuts as the culprit for the unfortunate state of somepublic schools. President Bush came into office saying his goal was to leave nochild behind, but he hasn't lived up to that. For the neediest children and theirteachers, the President is actually proposing $6 billion less for education thana year ago when he signed the bill, leaving more than five million childrenbehind.
His administration remains focused on shifting funding frompublic to private schools, while cutting money to train quality teachers and endovercrowded classrooms. We need to take immediate steps to modernize the morethan one-third of our public schools that are in a state of disrepair. Democratsare also leading the fight to hire more teachers to reduce classsize.
Who contributes more to the good of society, teachers orpoliticians? Please don't say both.
Teachers and politicians contribute indifferent ways that are difficult to compare and, in many cases, are equallyimportant. The difference a teacher makes can be seen in the first-grader wholearns to read, the junior-high school student who discovers a love for science,the high-school student who is prepared for the tests that will send her tocollege.
Lawmakers' influence is often harder to witness firsthand, buttheir decisions affect many areas of our lives from health care to crime to theeconomy. Both teachers and politicians commit their lives to serving the public -one of the highest callings anyone can have - and we should focus on commendingrather than comparing them.
From my experience working in afederal court house, I understand that many young people serve time withoutrehabilitation, and are released only to be rejected by society. This causes themto fall back into criminal activity. What can be done to break thiscycle?
There's no question that too often young people who have beenconvicted of a crime are released from prison only to return a short time lateras repeat offenders. We need to be committed to rehabilitation and job trainingto attain stable employment. As a country, we must do a better job of bringinghope to these people so they can turn their lives around. As a preventativemeasure, we can do this by making sure they recognize the more productivealternatives to a life of crime. That's why it is so important to support qualityafter-school programs so teens get involved in safe, healthy activities.
With the Iraq War and the rebuilding effort, a disproportionatenumber of minority and low-wage earning soldiers are sacrificing their families,jobs and income (not to mention their lives) while corporations, stockholders andothers profit. What can be done to allow the average soldier to gain significantbenefits?
When our troops put their lives in danger to defend our freedom,it is our job to honor that service by providing them with care and assistancewhen they return home. Sadly, President Bush has stood in the way of expandinghealth-care programs to help America's veterans, slicing billions from theirbenefits to accommodate the administration's unfeasible tax cut! We must continueto fight this short-changing of veterans.
How do you respond tothe criticism that political parties are nothing more than fronts for corporateinterests?
The most important thing teens need to realize is that thedecision-making that happens today does affect them, both now and in the future.As a group of voters, you are viewed as a high-risk, high-reward constituency.Because so many are outside the political process, the potential reward is hugefor a candidate who pays attention to you.
The risk, of course, is thateven if a candidate reaches out, you still won't care enough to turn out at thepolls or become involved in the process. By volunteering at record rates, youngpeople have shown they care about making a positive impact in their communities.
Therefore, the challenge is not to get you to care about issues, butrather to convince you that getting involved in politics is the most effectiveway to make a difference. To confront national issues through volunteerism andnever engage in politics is like fighting with one hand tied behind your back.For those who tutor students for the SATs, the Bush education cuts and tax cutagenda (which has contributed to a 14-percent increase in state college tuition)make it even harder for families to afford college.
More than ever, theDemocratic Party understands the need to reach out to young Americans. That'swhy, as I mentioned before, the Democratic National Convention Committee, throughits "Speak Out for the Future" essay contest, has committed to invitingstudents to gavel open and address our National Convention.
The reality isthat the high cost of running for office means politicians have to raise a lot ofmoney to be competitive. George Bush is expected to raise a record $200 million.Democrats won't raise that much, but we will have to compete.
In 2002, aban on soft money contributions to political parties went into effect, endinglarge, unregulated contributions (often in excess of hundreds of thousands ofdollars). Since the ban, the DNC has done remarkably well. Our average donationis about $36 and comes increasingly from working Americans with families whocontribute what their budgets allow. This ensures that all Americans have equalaccess to Democrats who hold public office.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.