In a political landscape marked by divisions and isolation, one organization aims to introduce the electorate's youngest voters to candidates and their positions through a forum that values information over ideology.
IDEAL, founded by political science and philosophy student Liam Haviv (below) of Johns Hopkins University, stands for inform, discuss, enlighten, acknowledge and learn. Founded four years ago, the long-term goal of the organization is "to change the nature of civic discourse and to change the way people think about politics," Haviv told Seeker.
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Haviv began the organization as a high school student following his experience as a page in the U.S. Senate. The interactions Haviv had on the Hill with other pages in late-night talks about policy and political philosophy inspired IDEAL.
"The beginning was really just: How are we going to make the unapproachable concepts and topics approachable?" Haviv explained.
"Political opinions do not have to define people as individuals, and nothing about them has to define their political opinions," Haviv said.
IDEAL's events vary depending on whether a local chapter is based in a high school or college, but activities include mock elections, discussions on a certain political issue or topic, bipartisan debate viewing parties, voter registration drives, community engagement projects, and more in order to foster engagement and raise voter awareness.
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IDEAL also has an executive branch and cabinet, complete with a department of state, department of communication, department of education and more, an innovation Haviv credits to the Swarthmore chapter of IDEAL.
Each group has its own areas of responsibility. The department of state, for example, works with outside organizations to help set up events, while the department of education helps with information research and sets the topics and agendas for informed discussions.
IDEAL isn't necessarily looking to put a lid on partisanship, so much as it is trying to encourage perspective.
"We encourage students to have opinions, but we also encourage students to make sure that those opinions are dictated by the information we're looking at and not predisposed," Haviv explained.
Even after graduation, Haviv aims to continue to grow IDEAL and eventually register it as a nonprofit. At the organization's founding, the 10-year plan was to expand the program to 50 high schools and colleges across the country, so expect to see IDEAL in more schools come the next election.
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