Thursday, August 25, 2011

Student Statesmanship Institute

The muses in the capitol rotunda
Who would think a week of studying bills from the house and senate, translating "legalese," writing speeches, listening to debates, giving press conferences, and surviving on cafeteria food would be done by choice?  But three weeks out of the summer, Great Lakes Christian College in Lansing, Michigan is teeming with high schoolers doing just that.  And yes, they even have fun in the process!

I have spent four weeks in successive summers at Student Statesmanship Institute.  My first year, as a state representative, I arrived having no idea of what to expect. I mean, summer camp is supposed to be fun!  Who invented government camp?  A whole week of parliamentary procedure, caucus meetings, questioning lobbyist, worrying about the press, and speech writing,  all overseen by a "sometimes benevolent dictator?" You've got to be kidding me!  But, I was hooked (I think its something in the water...besides the "swamp monster.")  So much so, this summer I could not stay away and went as a chaperone. 

The Madison committee

So, what exactly do you do at SSI?  First year students are state representatives, second year is senate (you get to write amendments to your bills! ... as long as they are germain.  No Barney amendments.)  You take the oath of office, join a committee and caucus, and start studying your bills (while hanging out with your caucus and eating pizza, of course.  Come on, this is camp!)  Throughout the week you take your bill from caucus, to committee, (at the state capitol) where you interview lobbyists and vote to pass the bill to the house floor.  You then head back to camp and start honing your caucus strategy and arguments and commence to speech writing, and rewriting and more rewriting, because on Friday you will be on the house floor debating other caucus in an attempt to pass you bill.

Caucus meetings, at this point we were not getting much done...

While the representatives are in caucus attempting to figure out what in the world they are doing, and the Senators are plowing full speed ahead, some of the third and fourth year students are quietly tucked away in a back room furiously typing at their computers, or sneaking around campus with note pads and pencils, or video cameras.  Yes.  The media.  Feared by all, with few friends as a result, the few and the proud take their job seriously as they hunt down stories, interview poor, unsuspecting representatives, and capture *misquotes for, what would probably be considered, the equivalent of the comics section of the daily SSI Observer. 

(*Misquote - random phrases, usually taken out of context, said in the hearing of media personnel or one, Charity Malick.  Misquotes are not supposed to make sense. The stranger the better.
 "We will win by the power of rhyming, Botox, exercising regularly, and cake" -Maple party member,
"Safety is one of our... top 5 priorities." -Zak Weston,  
"Jennie is our camp nurse.  She's vicious." -Amber Thompson,
"The orange juice is malfunctioning." -Hannah Kissling,
"How do you feel about being a people killer?" -Representative to lobbyist,
"We'll have to think of something nasty to love." -Spencer Field,
"The terror in your eyes keeps me alive." -Zak Weston,
"All ninjas are lame compared to me." -Evan Thompson) 

Week three was also the pilot week for the campaign tract.  That means, in addition to all the normal (if you can call them that) SSI events we also had a gubernatorial debate to attend and lots of fund raising and campaigning to put up with  ;)  The three parties were very creative in their strategies.  Not only did they have campaign adds in the news paper and commercials in the broad casts, but they sent out "mailings," and hosted events such as face painting, euchre tournaments, and sponsor dinners (which included a served cafeteria meal by members of the party, they even bussed the table for you!)

Amber and I

Oh, and you cannot leave out the annual talent show (very fun to watch!) Between the kids collecting signatures for the petition, and hearing campers practicing everything from instrumentals to stand up comedy in preparation for the auditions, the day has a climatic feel to it.  We had some great acts this year!

The County Boys at the talent show

That's what the kids do, what did I do as a chaperone?  I had way to much fun!  I was assigned to the Madison committee which was handling the "smoking ban" bill and the "adoption by any couple" bill.  (neither of which passed)  Among other things, it was my job to moderate caucus meetings, keep the kids on track and make sure they had some sort of idea about what they were doing.  I had a great group of "representatives" in my committee!  They expended lot of effort in their arguments, research, and speeches! 

If this all seem a bit confusing, I'm sorry, but there is not much I can do. It's an SSI thing.  I could try to explain it, but you will never quite get it until you experience the craziness for yourself. 

SSI is really nothing more than one big inside joke. 

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