About 30 people gathered in the school's auditorium Thursday night for the forum. Seniors from Brad Hurlburt's government class worked with adult advisors to present on the parties and their candidates. The discussion included the two major U.S. political parties, the Democrats and Republicans, as well as the Green Party, the Socialism and Liberation Party, the Libertarian Party and the Constitution Party.
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Government teacher Brad Hurlburt said the forum wasn’t a class assignment. The students weren’t given grades for their presentations. He said his students watched all three presidential debates and then expressed a curiosity about third-party candidates.
“We started doing some research, and one of our students — Sam Balzac — is very interested in the Green Party platform,” Hurlburt said. “Along with his family’s support (Sam’s father Fred Balzac is a liberal political activist), we got this idea of putting together a forum in which we had students researching the six parties that are represented on the New York state ballot for president and getting adult representatives that were familiar with the party, or even active with the party, to come in and support the discussion.”
At the start of the forum, each student laid out the core values and beliefs of the political party they researched. The students then discussed a wide range of issues, including the economy, health care, the environment, constitutional rights and civil liberties.
Sam Balzac presented on the Green Party. He said the public often associates the party with environmental advocacy, but its mission is actually much broader. He discussed the Green New Deal, a plan to bring the U.S. out of recession while advancing environmentally sound policies.
“The Green New Deal seeks to reduce unemployment by creating government jobs, slow down climate change by encouraging the development of wind and solar technologies, fix our financial situation by reorganizing America’s banking system, preserve democracy by expanding voting rights, and decrease military spending,” Balzac said.
The presentations revealed some stark differences between political parties on issues like same-sex marriage, abortion and the economy. Not surprisingly, the Democratic, Green and Socialism and Liberation parties favor more government regulation of banks and corporations. The Republicans and Libertarians favor a more hands-off approach.
But on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, very different parties — like the Libertarians and the Socialists — have a lot in common.
Victoria Patenaude presented for the Libertarian Party.
“The Libertarian Party wants to decrease our involvement outside of our country,” she said. “They want to emphasize defense and de-emphasize offense. They do want to maintain sufficient military but stop trying to act like the policemen for the world.”
Jack Van Wie said his party – the Socialism and Liberation Party – agrees with that approach.
“When we find ourselves in situations like these (wars), we tend to make them worse, actually,” he said. “Our (party’s) policy is to stay out of there and let them kind of figure out what they want to do by themselves.”
After the forum, students like Patenaude said the project enriched their view of American politics.
“I have grown up kind of black and white, like it’s Republican or Democrat,” she said. “I’ve heard of the other parties, but I didn’t really know about them. ... Doing this project, I saw Libertarian on the whiteboard as an option, and I was like, ‘I don’t know that party; I’m not familiar with them. I’ll choose that one.’ And I learned so much about them, and I actually agree with a lot of what they say — not all of it. It was still a really good learning experience because if I don’t know of them, it’s like, ‘They must not be popular; maybe they don’t have a lot of good stuff.’ But I was really impressed with everything they said.”
Lora Goulet of Jay attended the forum and was impressed.
“I thought it was really great to see these young kids that are going to be voting soon get so familiar with the issues in such great depth,” she said.
Hurlburt said his government class will continue its dialogue about national politics on Wednesday when it breaks down election results.