Over fifty students received intensive training in political activism and leadership this past weekend in Campus Camp Wellstone. The two-day event was run by three trained staff members from Wellstone Action, a non-profit organization focused on progressive social change.

“Although the training was modeled after progressive ideas, any student group or leader on campus would benefit from the skills we received in the training,” sophomore Mollie Foust said. “The sessions focused a lot on leading groups of people and motivating others to become a part of what you are involved with.”

The sessions focused around four themes: leadership, planning, communication, and identity. Each participant began the training by stating what social issues were most important to them. Economic development, sustainability, racism, human rights and education were among the most frequently discussed issues. The goal for many was to acquire skills necessary to tackle these problems in real-world situations.

Students engaged in an array of exercises that taught them political tactics applicable in all different levels of the political arena. In one session, students engaged in a one-on-one conversation with a fellow participant to cajole them to partake in a rally. Another focused on creating a successful mock campaign with persuasive slogans to generate support.

“[The camp] helped get a larger audience of students with the same ideas and goals in the same room and has already begun to increase the amount of collaboration and teamwork here on campus,” event organizer and senior Anthony Plonczynski said. “More communication and focus were needed before Wellstone. The collective response from CCW is that we are now headed in the right direction if we can implement what we learned effectively.”

Camp Wellstone was founded in 2003 in memory of Paul Wellstone, the Minnesota Senator who, along with his wife Sheila, was killed when their plane crashed in 2002. The Democrat was known for his grassroots campaigning strategies. In Washington, Wellstone incessantly supported legislation that protected farmers’ rights, the environment, health care, and other policies of his progressive agenda.

Over 9,000 graduates of Camp Wellstone have participated in campaigns and 35 have moved on to win an elected office.

The college version of the program was first created in 2005 at Carleton College in Minnesota, where Wellstone was once a professor. The controversial professor once organized his students to rally in his favor when the administration threatened to terminate his contract. Since then, the program has been held at 23 colleges nationwide.

The event was sponsored by Amnesty International, College Democrats, Grassroots, Minority Students Advisory Board, Students for Social Justice, Student Association of Vegetarians and Vegan Youth, Undergraduate Political Science Council, Model UN and Women’s Caucus.

“It’s important to teach the concrete skills young people need to organize for social change within their campuses and communities,” Program Director Anne Johnson said. “Our generation is engaging in politics, it’s an exciting time.”

Last Monday’s rally for immigration gave the recent CCW graduates a chance to implement their newly acquired skills among hundreds of protesting Rochester residents.

“Young people are passionate and sophisticated, but I think we often feel like we haven’t found our voice. We hope to change that with Campus Camp Wellstone,” said Program Director Anne Johnson. “It’s inspiring to see more than 50 students spend a weekend building their skills to better participate in our democracy.”Fernandez can be reached at mfernandez@campustimes.org.

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