Monday, August 3, 2009

I Survived Candidate Survivor

My trip up to Seattle to take in the Washington Bus' Candidate Survivor forum was well worth the effort. There were hundreds of people -- mostly under 35 -- who packed into the Showbox to watch the candidates for Seattle City Council compete for the affections of the crowd.

The candidates came out on stage dressed in track gear, dancing and mugging while the audience cheered. The first challenge was for each to introduce themselves in haiku -- no speeches allowed! I noticed most of the candidates failed to use proper the proper haiku form, but it was still an interesting way to get them to say something meaningful without putting everyone to sleep.

The action was non-stop. There were "yes and no" questions, multiple choice questions, a talent show, a dance off, and more. Three times during the night the audience was invited to vote via text message for their favorite candidate, and those receiving the fewest votes were asked to leave the stage.

Reporter Chris Grygiel of Seattle P-I wrote "it's a safe bet that a candidate forum where you find out that Seattle City Council President Richard Conlin has skinny dipped in Lake Washington and smoked pot is not sponsored by the League of Women Voters."

Grygiel's post focused on the sensational rather than the substantive, forgetting to mention that serious questions about health care, transportation and the environment were also asked. But it's also true the forum was intended to be frisky and fun.

The alternative weekly The Stranger promoted the event heavily and had reporters in attendance as well. Among them was Lindy West who wrote "last night was awesome. The candidates were all great sports, and I think we all learned a lot about democracy, track suits, robots, and Sally Bagshaw's sexuality." Laugh if you will (I certainly did), but I'll bet every kid in that room will vote in the primary on August 18th.

I came away impressed with the competence and effectiveness of the good folks at Washington Bus who continue to pioneer ways to engage young people in democracy that are both fun and informative. I came away thinking that candidate forums don't have to feel like a trip to the dentist. And I came away hoping I'll be able to attend if they hold this event again. -- Dennis

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