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From the Deputy Publisher: Representing the Future

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Published November 16, 2022 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated November 29, 2022 at 5:29 p.m.


Good Citizen Challenge finishers and organizing partners - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Good Citizen Challenge finishers and organizing partners

While most of the state — and the nation — was focused on who would win the midterm election in the week leading up to November 8, a group of Vermonters gathered at the Statehouse with a different agenda: celebrating the small-"d" democratic values we have in common.

On November 3, a crowd of 100 attended the Good Citizen Challenge awards reception in the House chamber. The event honored the young people across Vermont who completed the latest Good Citizen Challenge, a nonpartisan civics project organized by Seven Days and our parenting publication, Kids VT.

These students spent the summer doing a variety of civics-related activities — such as visiting the Vermont History Museum, reading the newspaper, volunteering for a local charity and making art inspired by Vermont's motto, "Freedom and Unity." We compiled these tasks on a bingo-like scorecard that appeared in Seven Days numerous times throughout the season. To finish the Challenge, each participant completed at least one row of five activities. Those who did got an invitation to the Statehouse, where we gave out prizes and recognized some of their outstanding work. You can read about the event, and see some of the submissions, in the winter issue of Kids VT, inside this week's paper.

The after-hours Statehouse reception in the majestic House chamber invited these students to imagine themselves there in the future — as legislators, activists, members of the media or involved citizens. A question no one in attendance asked or answered: Which candidates or political parties do you support?

It didn't matter: The message of the Challenge is that anyone can be a good citizen, regardless of political affiliation. Being a good citizen is about understanding our history, our government and local news — and working together with others to improve the communities we live in. It's OK to disagree about how to do that. In fact, hearing and considering competing viewpoints respectfully is essential to a functioning democracy.

We created the Challenge in 2018 — with support from the Vermont Community Foundation — to make those points and to help young Vermonters learn and practice the skills they'll need to steward our democracy in the years ahead. I love seeing their submissions; they're the best antidote to despair over the divisive nature of our politics.

Here's an example, from a Challenge entry by Callum McGregor of St. Johnsbury. For activity #8 ("Connect to neighbors"), Callum wrote a post for his Front Porch Forum. Because he's under 14, the minimum age for FPF contributions, he asked his mom to send it.

In the writeup, Callum described his work for the Challenge, which included picking up trash in his neighborhood, listening to primary candidate debates, learning about his town's history and bringing "a trunk full of donations" to Northeast Kingdom Community Action. "I am going into 6th grade this fall and this helped me improve respectful communication with others and the value of community service," he wrote.

Included in his entry for the Challenge were some of the responses he received. "Way to go!" wrote one person. "I am so impressed with all that you learned and did. You made my day!

"You are a good neighbor," wrote another. "Thanks for what you have done and for encouraging others to do the same. It's not only for 6th graders, but adults of any age as well. Many thanks!!!"

The best one: "Bravo, Callum ... In your name I am going to make a $20 contribution to St Johnsbury history and heritage museum. Thank you for inspiring that."

These kids inspire me, too. For updates on when we'll be launching our next Challenge, sign up for email alerts at goodcitizenvt.com.