The world watches with them

Published 10:49 am Thursday, November 13, 2008

What a night last Tuesday night, Nov. 4 was for Americans.

History was made. Americans will heretofore recall where they were when it happened.

Not just another presidential election by any means, it was the one where America elected Senator Barack Obama, its first African-American president.

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It was a defining moment for all Americans, but also watched around the world.

Nobody watched closer than “Mr. Bill” and his social issues class of Southland High School juniors and seniors.

For more than a month, teacher William “Mr. Bill” Feuchtenberger and his social issues classes had monitored the 2008 presidential election campaign’s final days.

They surfed the Internet, scoured newspapers, watched the attack and counter-attack ads on television, listened to their parents and joined the family discussions at mealtime and counted yard signs along city streets and country roads in the Southland school district.

Inside their school, the students galvanized into a campaign of their own. Posters were drawn, flyers circulated, cateteria discussions ensued and a debate was held before students.

The economy was the No. 1 issue in the students’ campaign, but abortion, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and immigration reform also ranked high on the lists of students’ concerns.

Polls suyrveyed the pulse of the in-school electorate.

Finally, ballots were cast in a mock election.

The results: Obama, 211; John McCain, 42; and Ralph Nader, 11.

So thorough was the effort, the social issues class produced its own slate of candidates for the hands-on learning experience: Jamie Hanson for president and Ben Loecher on the winning Democrat Party ticket; Bryten Reuter, president, and Brooke Kinney, vice president on the Republican Party ticket; and Danielle Irvin, president, and Danielle Mork, vice president, on the Independent Party ticket.

The students under the guidance of their teacher, Feuchtenberger, totally immersed themselves in the electoral process.

On Wednesday, a group of the students sat down to discuss being witnesses to American history: Liz Meany, a junior; Danielle Mork, a senior; Brooke Hamilton, a senior; Brooke Kinney, a junior; Bryten Reuter, a senior; and Jamie Hanson, a senior.

“Obviously, this was a very important election,” Hanson said. “With the way our country is at the time and the troubles we are having it was very important. We definitely needed someone to get in there who was going to make changes and turn the economy around and stabilize other issues like the war in Iraq.”

The students thought Gov. Sarah Palin was not ready for the role she was asked to fill on the GOP ticket and it showed.

“Especially, the Katie Couric interview on CBS News,” Kinney said. “She couldn’t give the right answers. To me, it sounded like she had no clue what she was talking about.”

Reuter said, “I don’t think the world is ready for a female political leader yet.”

“I think they (the Repubican Party) would have had a better chance electing a woman, than a person of another race, if it wasn’t Palin,” Mork said.

Meany said, “I don’t think America is a racist nation, but there are racist individuals.”

“That’s why this was such a big step for African-Americans to have Senator Obama elected,” Kinney said. “It’s amazing for their race, but there’s a lot more that needs to be done.”

Long campaign

The students said they began following the 2008 presidential campaign in January, when the first-in-the-nation Iowa and New Hampshire primaries were held.

“I kept track of who was in and who was out, of the race,” Mork said.

Not until the new school year began did they discuss politics in school and that was due as much because of Mr. Bill’s popular social issues class as anything else, the students said.

While Americans were inundated with presidential politics 24/7, everyone had their favorite moments on the campaign trail.

“I loved his speech on election night,” Meany said. “It was not just ‘Yes, we won, blacks will overcome.’ He mentioned that, but he also said ‘I’m here to help repair the nation, but I need the nation’s help, because I can’t do it all by myself.’”

‘Bad things’

Hamilton’s top moments of the 2008 campaign were less-flattering than the Obama speech after the results rolled in Nov. 5.

“The only things I honestly remember from the campaign were the bad things,” she said. “For instance, the vice presidential debate where Sarah Palin just kept talking about things that shouldn’t be addressed by her or her $150,000 shopping spree. That was another huge moment for me to remember,” Hamilton said.

Kinney also said the vice presidential debate stood out as she reflected on the campaign for a different reason.

“I actually think Sarah Palin held her own in that debate,” Kinney said. “I think she did good, not necessarily in answering all the questions, but reaching out to everyone and getting down to the level of the majority of people and talking about Joe Six Pack and things like that.”

Kinney also will remember McCain’s concession speech election night.

“He was very respectful and he said things like how he wanted to help Obama and hoped he would get the chance,” the junior said.

Reuter agreed with Hamilton. “The things I will remember the most are the negative things,” the senior said. “Especially, the campaign ads. Not only on the national level, but those at the state level as well.”

Hanson agreed with Meany and Mork, that Obama’s election night speech was one to remember.

“He wasn’t celebrating, but he got right down to business saying how Democrats and Republicans have to work together,” Hanson said.

His second memorable moment was the 2008 Democrat Party national convention where the Illinois junior senator was nominated by his party to run for President.

“I hadn’t known much about Obama before that,” Hanson said. “I watched his speech and (Joseph) Biden’s speech that week and learned what they stood for and what their platforms were and they both really impressed me,” he said.

Meany, Mork, Hamilton, Kinney, Reuter and Hanson were as good a group of young men and women one could hope to find to discuss the historic 2008 president election.

Inspired by their teacher and the irrepressible Mr. Bill’s encouragement, they made the campaign and its result unforgettable on many levels.

“In our class it seemed like the Republicans were bashed more,” said Kinney, who ran as a Republican presidential candidate with Reuter. “So Bryten and I really had to work hard to overcome that.”

Meany promoted the female pair, Reuters and Kinney, along with Condaleeza Rice, Harriet Tubman and Elizabeth I, a potent trio of female leaders if ever there was one.

“We used whatever we had to our advantage,” she said.

The debate before the students was credited with engaging students in the in-school political process.

“After we started talking and they realized we had something to say, they were really appreciative,” Kinney said.

The students were invited to “slam” the incumbent lameduck President George W. Bush, but no one accepted the offer.

“Stuff went wrong, but I don’t think it was directly his fault,” Reuter said. “Everything went bad on his watch, but it was really the fault of the Congress.”

Everyone watched Obama’s acceptance speech in front of the 200,000 people in Chicago’s Grant Park election night on television, on computer.

“We had all the TVs on in the house and were flipping back and forth to every channel as each state’s electoral totals came up,” Kinney said.

“I watched CNN the whole night,” said Mork.

The whole world was watching with the Southland students.