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Class Project: Create A PAC
posted May 10, 2007

Students in a Calvin political science class turned in an ambitious piece of homework this semester: They created a political action committee (PAC).

The PAC, dubbed Young Americans for Generational Equality or Y-AGE, was an assignment for Political Science 317, “Parties and Elections.”

“Usually, the class is held in the fall of an election year, and the class is structured for some practical experience like volunteering on a campaign. You can’t do that it in the spring,” says Doug Koopman, the Calvin political science professor who teaches the class.

The name of the PAC in part references the “Y” generation, Koopman says, whose technological savvy gives makes them valuable muscle in the political world.

“One motivation for this assignment was to show my students the power they had to influence the system. What do students have that politicians don’t?” he asks. “They have creativity, and they have experience with the new media. YouTube and MySpace and Facebook and all this social networking is second nature to our students.

He adds: "Traditional politicians know they don’t understand that stuff, but they obviously want it to help them.”

Indeed, the Y-AGE Web site, www.yagepac.org, contains the listserv and video features common to modern internet destinations. The site also states the Y-AGE mission: “Our immediate and long term goal is to influence our elected officials to be responsive to the needs of our generation and subsequent generations.”

The class was responsible for creating an agenda for Y-AGE.

“I didn’t tell them what issues to pick, other than to say pick issues that affect your generation and that cross traditional party lines,” says Koopman.

That proved tricky.

“Our class comes from the entire political spectrum, so it was difficult for us to find issues that we all agreed on,” said Y-AGE member Melissa Rick, a senior majoring in political science and psychology.

The students found agreement on three issues that became the PAC initiatives: the environment, entitlements and education.

“Those three ideas do capture the concerns of their generation, and also normal politics ignores them because normal politics is about the short term: How do I balance the budget this year, how do I get through the next election?” says Koopman.

Says Rick: “We’re concerned about environmental sustainability, and we’re looking at Congress’s use of energy regulation. “We see social security as a system that’s broken and that politicians aren’t addressing. Though our generation doesn’t really have a voice in the discussion, our generation is the one that’s going to be affected by what politicians are and aren’t doing about social security.”

As for education, she says that was the most self-explanatory of Y-AGE’s initiatives: “We would like to see the government invest more in education and see it as a priority.”

The goal of the PAC is endorse and support candidates on the federal level who work effectively on those three issues.

Koopman required the class to do all the legwork required to create the PAC, including researching the relevant laws and registering with the federal elections commission.

“We’ve all done different things on the project,” Rick says. “This project taught us not only how to create a PAC in the future but how to create an organization. What are the resources? Where do you start looking? I think these kinds of projects build us into a self-efficacy that I’ve seen in myself and in other students. To use a cliché, it has helped us find our voice.”

Koopman emphasized that Y-AGE is not an official Calvin entity.

“It’s not officially college affiliated in any way,” he says. “The discussion board they created to discuss the PAC is not hosted on Calvin’s Web site.”

He said the assignment benefited students in a number of ways.

“They’ve learned how to execute a group project. They’ve learned how to negotiate and how to work together and how to find common ground. And for the students who are thinking about getting jobs in politics, it’s a great thing they can point to say, ‘We created a federal PAC.’”

Not the least of the project’s benefits, he adds, is its longevity.

“They’ve created something that lasts," he says, "and that’s relevant in the real world."

Rick is excited that the organization will continue long past the graduation of some of its members. The Y-AGE members are planning to do some fundraising and outreach for the PAC over the summer.

“We’d like to get a database of different college students’ emails from around the nation,” she says.

Not the least of the project’s benefit’s for her, she says, was the enjoyment she got from working on it.

“It doesn’t feel like homework to spend ten or twenty hours researching the law.”

~written by Calvin staff writer Myrna Anderson

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