Have you ever heard of the Kennedy Internship program? Well, I did, in 1963, and I wanted to be a part of it. So, upon graduation from high school in Mountain Home I took a $100 gift from my aunt and another $20 from my father and bought a one-way bus ticket to Washington, D.C.
Thanks to help from then Democratic Congressman Ralph Harding, several other Idahoans and I were accepted into the program. I also had help from the Mormon community in Washington D.C., who fed me more than once on a Sunday while I awaited my first paycheck (even though I was a Catholic).
That summer we worked during the week. We lived in a small apartment on Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown, going to work by bus.
Weekly, the interns, several thousand strong, gathered in the National Guard armory. We listened to talks from Robert Kennedy, Robert McNamara and other Kennedy administration officials.
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In August 1963 our little group of five Idaho interns walked to the grounds of the Washington Monument and then down the Capitol Mall to the Lincoln Memorial as part of the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington. I still have the program for the march.
Before leaving Washington we gathered on the White House lawn, where President Kennedy addressed us. Only three months later he was assassinated in Dallas.
Although being from a political family and having worked in various campaigns since I was 10 years old, it was the experiences of that summer that cemented my interest and lifelong involvement in politics and public service.
On March 22 of this year I attended the Idaho State Democratic caucus in Boise, apparently the largest ever held in the United States, and saw a large contingent of young people roughly the same age that I was in 1963. They stood in line, many for hours, to support Bernie Sanders. I was proud of them and proud to have taken part. I was deeply impressed by their good humor and commitment. My wife and I were two of the gray-haired folks supporting Hillary Clinton.
I hope every one of them remain involved after this election. Idaho and our country needs them. However, they need to stay involved in more than just presidential politics. Things closer to home can impact them even more.
Continue to work for good candidates at all levels. (Remember, Bernie started as a city councilman.) Presidents don’t run the fire and police departments — usually city councils do. Your local roads in Ada County are controlled by a countywide highway district. The schools are run by the local school boards and your tuition, taxes, higher education, state roads and a large portion of local school budgets are under the control of the executive branch of state government, a separate but equal legislative branch and at times a separate but equal judicial branch.
Every year there are elections. Pay attention to what elected officials do. Work on campaigns. Run for office yourself.
There has been a lot of talk about a revolution. It’s hard to organize a revolt however when only 38 percent of voters turn out in the primary. That means 19 percent plus one, not 50 percent plus one are governing. You can change that. You can have a small revolution every time there is an election. After a while they add up. You can only do it if you pay attention (not always easy), and only if you vote. Have at it. Give these gray-hairs a few more. It’s a great way to be informed, frustrated and the opportunity, even if not always successful, to change your government.
Your next chance in Idaho is May 17. Make a revolution. At the very least you can get voter turnout above 30 percent.
Mike Wetherell is a retired Ada County District Court judge who now serves as a member of the Statesman Editorial Board.