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District panel raises political awareness

District+panel+raises+political+awareness

By Riley Langefeld, copy editor
In an effort to create conversation within the local community about the upcoming presidential election, District 214 organized a panel discussion on the night of Sept. 20 at Forest View Educational Center. The discussion, moderated by John Hersey High School social science teacher Tom Smith, featured four speakers who gave their perspectives on the current election cycle and its candidates.
The event was planned by the district before the summer. The panelists were Eric Adelstein, former State Director of Illinois’ 1992 Clinton/Gore campaign, Pat Brady, former chairman of the Illinois Republican Party, Dan Mihalopoulos, an investigative reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times and Kerry Lester, a Daily Herald columnist. According to Smith, this provided a good mix of views and perspectives.
The event was open to the public and was attended by several hundred community members. The seats were filled with people young and old displaying campaign shirts and signs supporting Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
“Being an informed voter is a difficult task year in and year out,” Smith said. “Any opportunity we can take to have these conversations and listen to other people’s perspectives and experiences makes us a more informed voter and helps us to make more informed decisions.”
These speakers spent an hour responding to questions posed by Smith. They then discussed written questions submitted by audience members and finished the event with a final question from Smith: “If you could ask the candidates any question, with a truthful answer guaranteed, what would you ask?”
This question and others brought up discussions of the role of gender in this election, religion, the candidates’ attitudes, American political culture, the evolution of conservatism, and numerous other topics.
“There’s this moment in time [now] when everything is in upheaval,” Adelstein said when asked about the notable popularity of hardline candidates in the primary elections. “We’re in a moment of tremendous change, and we don’t know how it’s going to come out on the other side. Change creates uncertainty. … Extremes, whether they’re left or right, create simple answers.”
Additionally, Lester weighed in on the role of Clinton’s gender in the public’s view of her.
“[Her gender] has been a huge disadvantage,” Lester said. “I think her gender and our criticism of women in the political arena greatly contributes to how harshly we view her. … I think that’s not necessarily fair.”
According to Smith, it is important for young people to be a part of these discussions.
“Any election for a young person is important because it’s maybe their first or second election, so they’re still developing their political ideals and values and experiences and habits,” Smith said. “This is a critical election. It is important. The strength of our country depends on competent leadership. That’s true of any election.”
Despite the widely differing views and perspectives of the panelists, Smith stated that he felt the event was a success because of their ability to have the discussions.
“It was just really pleasant that these people, some of which disagree with each other, could have a civil conversation about really important issues,” Smith said. “I think that that does happen more than we sometimes see in the national media, and I’d like to see more of it.”

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