GREENFIELD — A group of Greenfield-Central students returned this week from a four-day trip to get a firsthand look at what it’s like to be a legislator.
For senior Shelby Heck, the experience at the Junior State of America’s Winter Congress invigorated an already healthy interest in politics.
For senior Alex Mercer, standing in front of a group of his peers to propose legislation reminded him just how much he hates public speaking.
Ten JSA members attended the mock congress gathering last weekend in Washington, D.C., along with JSA members from across the nation.
JSA, the largest student-run organization in the country, was founded in 1934 and operates a mock student government, with participants campaigning for elected positions and overseeing the responsibilities of their offices.
A nonprofit organization with more than 500 chapters, JSA promotes student political activism, civil engagement and debate competitions on topics of national and international interest.
Greenfield-Central’s JSA chapter, run by teacher adviser Kate Judy, is one of just two chapters in Indiana; the other is in Mooresville.
The annual mock congress is one of JSA’s signature events.
Students are divided into Senate and House of Representatives committees and are asked to debate on bills proposed by their peers.
Participants submit their own bills, amendments and resolutions for consideration before the event, and a bill director decides which will be on the docket.
G-C students tailored their three proposals – two of which ultimately made it onto the floor for debate – after their own interests and current issues facing the community.
“I feel like it kind of shows what the younger generation is feeling,” Shelby said,
One amendment sought to abolish the Electoral College, a topic about which Greenfield chapter president Daniel LaBore feels strongly.
“It better balances between states that are considered swing states and states that either almost always go red or almost always go blue,” said Daniel, 16, a junior.
As the amendment’s sponsor, it was Daniel’s responsibility to present the proposal and try to build support for it.
Junior Nick Reynolds, 17, sponsored a bill that requires a drug test for welfare applicants.
Students found they were passionate not only about their own bills but others that made it onto the floor. Reynolds said it was not his own bill but another that got him riled up.
Just as it has been in the Indiana Legislature, legalizing marijuana was one topic up for discussion.
Nick spoke out against the bill and had to keep reminding himself that the mock congress wouldn’t result in any real action.
“I felt myself getting really caught up and just wanting this not to happen,” he said. “I was really into it.”
Though students had varying opinions on the topics before the congress, the debates were friendly and even helped to build camaraderie among the participants, Shelby said.
“After you’re done debating, you can be best friends, and it brings you so much closer together even if you disagree completely on something,” she said.
While the take-away was different for each, the JSA members who attended agreed they all returned home with a better understanding of government and politics.
“I don’t really like public speaking that much, so it was all right to do this once, but I definitely would not do this as a career,” Alex said.