- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Teens and young adults from across the nation will converge at the Capitol on July 1 after a cross-country trek aimed at increasing youth participation in government.

Mobilizing America’s Youth (MAY) will dispatch two recreational vehicles Saturday from San Francisco for a journey to the District to stimulate Americans ages 16 to 30 to become more active in politics. Fifteen cities later, the march will culminate with a day of activities on the Mall.

The goal is simple, said MAY Executive Director David Smith, 24.

“We are hoping [people] will see a group of young people that have organized an event to get other young people rather than a negative connotation our generation has stirred up,” he said. “It’s an event of young people who are ready and willing to engage in politics, to use the system to create a necessary change. We embrace the American political system and realize we don’t have to wait until we are 50 years old to be taken seriously.”

The event is expected to draw more than 1,000 people, Mr. Smith said, some who will join the caravan en route and others who are expected to visit the Mall during the Fourth of July weekend.

At each stop, MAY teams have organized speakers, entertainment and guests.

Every aspect is nonpartisan, said Christie Stahlke, 21, who is coordinating the main event in the District.

Stops on the northern route include Portland, Ore., and Boston, while the southern route will travel through Houston and Atlanta, among other cities.

“We’re trying to make this as balanced as possible,” she said. “We’re there to allow youth to learn rather than take sides.”

Founded in 2002 by Mr. Smith, then a student at the University of California at Berkeley, MAY promotes youth engagement in politics by building teams in cities across the country that can sponsor and encourage civic involvement.

The march is the organization’s first national event and has taken more than a year to organize.

“I think what the members of MAY are doing is really quite remarkable,” said Scott Beale, 28, a regional director with Youth Venture, a nonprofit organization that provided seed money for the founding of MAY. “It’s one of those things that people have talked about doing for a long time but haven’t put their energy or reputation on the line to make it happen.”

July 1 events on the Mall will be staged near the west front of the Capitol and Third Street. The agenda includes music, speeches by members of Congress and officials from cooperating nonprofits as well as workshops on organizing and fund raising for youth efforts.

An action center will provide information on voter registration and give participants an opportunity to pledge themselves to a self-chosen goal — anything from absentee-ballot registration to getting five friends to the polls in November.

“We are ready to get involved. We are not apathetic, and if we are, we are ready to change that,” Miss Stahlke said.

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