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Sunday, August 25, 2019

Echaves: Political talk

TOMORROW the much-awaited first debate between US presidential contenders Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will air.

I’ll watch it with bated breath. Especially because the moderators just might ask questions coming from politically engaged millennials (no oxymoron there!)

Earlier this month, 117 college students from 87 schools across the US gathered in California as delegates to devise questions for the contenders to address.

One, on education: “How will you ensure quality education to socio-economically disadvantaged areas, both in terms of K-12 and access to higher education?”

Two, on social justice and civil rights: “What will you do to reduce the recidivism and mass incarceration rates in communities where poverty and violence are prevalent?”

Three, on immigration: “What is your plan for aiding the employment of skilled refugees and immigrants in their respective fields?”

Four, on the economy: “How would you restructure government assistance programs for the unemployed or impoverished to obtain self-sufficiency?”

Five, on foreign policy: (a) “What specific circumstances would prompt the United States to use military resources in a foreign country? How would you utilize the nation’s military resources?” And (b) “How do you plan to support Syrian civilians without creating further conflict with other political actors?”

Dubbed “College Debate 2016,” the activity was a joint initiative of the US Commission on Presidential Debates and the Dominican University of California.

Each of the student delegates was tasked to get inputs from their peers, and then vote in a live-streamed caucus-style town hall.

While there is no guarantee that the Clinton-Trump debate moderators will really use the questions, the debate sought to encourage voting among millennials, and draw students into political dialogue.

The first was a challenge. Past presidential elections showed low turnout from voters aged 18 and 24. In 2008, only 49 % of the millennials voted, but in 2012 the turnout dropped to 41%.

Engagement in non-inimical political dialogues was a greater challenge. Prior to College Debate 2016, the delegates convened in Dominican University to learn how to have political conversations in respectful and substantive ways, both online and in person.

Said one delegate after a long debate with his parents over immigration policy. Despite his parents’ conservative outlook, he observed that “in the past, it was a grudge match where we were yelling. Now it was much more civil, so we were able to put our opinions on the table without insulting anyone.”

The qualifier bears repeating: respectful and substantive ways.

It’s a reminder to keep us grounded, online or in person.

The online bashing of Sen. Leila de Lima has reached ridiculous and scandalous levels. That she initiated the inquiry on extrajudicial killings is within the right of the Senate.

Her critics say she should have yielded her chairmanship of the Senate committee on justice since she was going to participate actively in the hearings. They’ve got a point.

But when 15 anti-deLima senators used the neophyte Manny Pacquiao to take the lead in ousting her, did they play like honorable men?

Or did they only unmask themselves as the president’s attack dogs with senators’ collars?

(lelani.echavez@gmail.com)
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