We all watched the foreign policy-focused Presidential debate at Ole Miss, but one high school STAND chapter went to the center of the action. Check out this post from Elly Jackson of St. Andrew’s Episcopal School.
On September 26, 2008, I had the privilege of attending the first presidential debate at the University of Mississippi with my high school’s STAND chapter. I attend St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Ridgeland, Mississippi, and our STAND chapter is currently the only high school chapter in Mississippi. It was formed last year and has continued to grow with our new dynamic president, Sophie Sharp. We had only decided to attend the debate about three weeks prior to the date, so we had a lot to pull together in a short amount of time. None of us really knew what would come of our involvement at the presidential debate. I had no idea that it would be an experience that I will remember for the rest of my life.
We arrived at the Ole Miss campus wide-eyed and excited on the morning of the debate in our orange STAND tee shirts that we had had made to raise money for our trip. The thirty-four of us, mostly new members, were apprehensive about the long day that awaited us, but the general fervor greatly exceeded any anxiety. I was feeling especially anxious that day: I knew that what we were about to do would be huge. We set up our tent with our homemade sign that said "Vote Darfur 2008" and spread our freshly printed brochures across our folding table. Various members of the group, myself included, were interviewed for both local and national news broadcasts. Members were divided into work shifts, and everyone was expected to work for at least one hour, handing out pamphlets and telling anyone we could about the atrocities of the current genocide in Darfur. People walking by were also given the opportunity to sign petitions that we are sending to both candidates urging them to do something about the genocide in Darfur. Although only about six people were required at the tent for each shift, there were never fewer than fifteen STAND members at our tent at any given time. Many people had no idea about the genocide in Darfur in which over 400,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million people have been displaced. When I told them about the raping of women and the dearth of food supplies, I saw their eyes all of a sudden become wide with awe, and I knew that I had expanded their thinking. As the day went on, I felt an overwhelming sense of empowerment. As I handed out brochures and yelled "Vote Darfur!" I realized something: we as young people have the power to make real change in our world. We don’t have to wait around until we are old enough to vote or run for office. Our time to change minds is now.
I had the distinct privilege to create a one-minute video advocating our cause. The video featured photos of Darfur and clips of Senators Barack Obama and John McCain voicing their opinions about the current situation. The video played on two giant screens in "The Grove," the outdoor lawn where the events of the day took place. I was elated to see my hard work projected on the big screens; I knew my mom would be proud. Unfortunately, not everyone in my group had seen the video when it played. However, I realized that even if they hadn’t seen it, someone in "The Grove" had to have seen it, and maybe it made an impression on him or her.
By the end of the day, we had handed out all of our 2000 brochures, and we had told everyone we could find about the genocide. We were all tremendously proud of our progress. The day had been a roaring success. I have never felt more productive in my life. We may have changed 2000 minds that day. I may never know the extent of our actions, but I feel assured that we have planted a seed of hope for Darfur, using our voices to advocate for real change in our world.