During the Twilight Festival on Thursday nights, political campaign headquarters move to downtown Columbia in an effort to reach out to as many voters as possible.
Outside the Democratic headquarters on Walnut Street, the College Democrats of MU pass out lollipops and stickers endorsing Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts. Just a few feet away, Lucia Bourgeois and Jennifer Good hand out bumper stickers that say, “My Child Is A Future Voter Against Bush.”
Wearing T-shirts, jean skirts and flip-flops, the girls joke with friends who have come out to the festival. As Bourgeois playfully argues with one of her Republican friends, she notices a passer-by has stopped at her booth.
Bourgeois’ persona immediately changes. She transforms from a giggly 13-year-old girl to a campaign advocate, reciting the prices of anti-Bush merchandise.
After the patron leaves, Bourgeois returns to her friends and talks about how to best handle the set of male classmates who are quickly approaching. Some of the girls run their fingers through their hair and fiddle with their shirts. Bourgeois turns to talk with another passer-by interested in her booth.
Balancing youth and politics
Caught between departing youth and oncoming adulthood, Bourgeois and Good are quick to jump back and forth between the two. While some Twilight Festival campaigners have been political activists for years, the 13-year-old girls have just finished seventh grade and will not be allowed to vote for another five years. But that is not an excuse for political apathy. What started as a joke has evolved into a serious youth organization called Future Voters Against Bush.
“Not very many people our age have any idea about what’s going on,” Good said. “We want to show them how the government is going to affect their future.”
With this goal in mind, both girls have spent more than 20 hours each researching Bush’s policies and programs.
“I would come home from school and just stay up researching all night until I went to bed,” Good said.
Good and Bourgeois created all the slogans for their merchandise, including T-shirts, bumper stickers and buttons. They also produced the content on their Web site, futurevotersagainstbush.org.
The resounding message the girls are trying to express is that they desperately want Bush out of office.
“We’re not anti-conservative or anti- Republican,” Bourgeois said. “We’re just anti-Bush.”
Both girls said the Bush administration has been infringing on the public’s rights.
“It seems to us that most people only look at the big idea and don’t look underneath to see what’s really going on,” Bourgeois said.
In addition to their research, the girls also exchanged e-mails with state Rep. Vicky Riback Wilson, D-Columbia, and Ward 6 Committeewoman Anna Lingo.
Armed with this new found knowledge, the girls have faced mixed responses at the weekly Twilight Festival. One passer-by, Dean Anderson, said he hopes one of them will be president one day. But the girls have had their share of negative comments, which they say is one the hardest things they’ve had to face.
Though they’ve gained the support and guidance of their parents and many adults in the community, they did not find the same response among their peers.
“When people at school started hearing about us they tried to make us stop,” Good said. “They kept telling us that we were too young and that we couldn’t make a difference, but we didn’t let that bother us.”
The girls not only faced opposition to their idea, but were also persuaded to try to change their political beliefs. Another group in school started a short-lived “anti-anti-Bush” organization, Good said.
Some of this opposition may have been laced with the tensions facing many middle school students trying to find their niche among their peers. Now that the organization is gaining momentum, though, some of their rivals have decided to join in the girl’s efforts.
Two friends have been helping Good and Bourgeois since the organization’s early days. Meredith Cristal and Anna Kammeyer, also 13, assisted Good and Bourgeois in setting up a booth at GrooveOn for MoveOn, a political rally and dance held at the Blue Note in May, and have also helped out at the Twilight Festivals.
Worth the sacrifice
The girls said that their social lives have suffered since creating the organization, but all four enjoy spending time working together.
“The positives definitely outweigh any negatives we’ve experienced,” Bourgeois said.
Good’s mother, Laurie Mintz, says she is fearful that people will misconstrue the girls as spokespeople for liberal parents.
“This is completely their project,” Mintz said. “They’re 13, so they need me to do things like drive them to different events, but other than that, this is their baby. They are 100 percent responsible for everything they’ve done so far.”