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Inspiring Political Change

Inspiring Political ChangeWhat began as a vision from three Tufts students is quickly growing into a unique political movement.

Boston [08.13.01] On paper, the future of our political system could look grim. Statistics show that political participation among young people is on the decline as college-aged students opt for community volunteering instead of voter registration drives and political rallies. And growing salaries in the private sector has turned off many college grads to the idea of working in government.

But a trio of students at Tufts has created an organization they believe will turn the statistics and the system around -- reviving political interest among young people and inspiring their peers to embrace careers in public service.

"We see this as the beginning of our efforts to combat the system and to change the system," Tufts senior Erin Ross told the LA Times.

Eager to reinvigorate the political interests of their fellow college students, Ross joined Tufts senior Jesse Levey and Tufts graduate Larry Harris to help found the United Leaders Institute for Political Service.

"With a budget of $100,000, Levey, Harris and Ross launched an eight-week program offering summer internships at political and non-profit offices in Boston," reported the Times. "They devised regular academic seminars and dinner meetings with politicians, activists and authors. Saturdays were set aside for community service, and on Sunday nights the group gathered for debates."

Politicians have been taking notice.

"Former Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, a Democratic presidential candidate in 1988, said he was 'blown away' when he spoke at a recent United Leaders forum," reported the Times.

He told the newspaper: "These kids make my generation look passive by comparison."

Sen. John Kerry, Congressman Adam Putman and former Congressman Rick Lazio serve on the organization's advisory board, alongside the founder and CEO of City Year and the National Youth Director for Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign.

"It's a movement," Harris told the Times. "We're trying to equip this movement with the foot soldiers who are going to go into elective audience."

The strategy, says the Tufts group, is to show that politics can make an important impact. Community volunteerism -- one of the most popular activities among student at Tufts and other universities -- was a good place to start.

"What we thought is, if we could connect this service movement with politics, we could somehow make a difference," Levey said.

They appear to be succeeding.

Just six months after they created their mission statement, the United Leaders has 12 student fellows across the country. Though that may appear small to some, Dukakis told the Times it was a very strong foundation for the young organization.

"They are going to have another dozen next year, and then another and another, and they will all start connecting, and pretty soon you've got this network," he said.

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