Close Up Trip In DC: Bursting The Bubble

Kate Meyjes, Managing Editor

Growing up in Piedmont, I haven’t met many truly openly conservative teenagers. There is a stigma around being conservative here, a phenomenon that isn’t prevalent in other parts of the country. During my time on the Close Up trip in Washington DC, I was introduced to teenagers from places such as Miami, FL and Kodiak, AK. I was able to see first hand how their communities, family lives, and religions shaped their political opinions, and how to coexist with those whom you do not agree with politically. 

I urge students who will have the opportunity to go on this trip. Not only will it show you a city that is so rich with the history of America, but you will also meet people with diverse opinions, and it will change how you approach politics for the rest of your life. 

Most of the people I met from Miami were first or second generation Americans and descendants of Cuban immigrants. Their families immigrated to the United States to escape socialism under Fidel Castro, and this experience has heavily influenced their strictly capitalistic views. Along with having fiscally conservative families, all participants I met from Miami attended Catholic high schools. Many cited their religious upbringing as the foundation for their stances on political issues, including abortion and reproductive rights. A majority of the students from Miami shared similar political opinions, attributed to their similar environments. 

On the trip, I met a liberal student from one of the Miami Catholic schools, and she told me she couldn’t wait to leave the “conservative bubble”  she had grown up in. This struck me as surprising at first, because I am accustomed to our majority liberal community. I soon realized it was equally as important for her to come on the trip as it was for me. Just as I was able to see that the whole world wasn’t liberal, she got to see that the whole world wasn’t conservative. 

In small, guided groups, students on the trip took time to focus on how to have civil political discussions. Instead of debating our individual political opinions, we were urged to discuss our political values, namely liberty, justice, and equality. We then discussed which of the three were most important to us, and which we thought were most important to the American government. 

These discussions worked to reduce animosity between conservative and liberal opinions, and allowed participants to find a common ground. I found myself agreeing with some of the conservative students, and found them agreeing with the liberal ones as well. With the help of these workshops, both groups demonstrated a willingness to agree with an opinion even if it wasn’t outlined by their chosen political party.  

I can understand that some students may be apprehensive to join this trip, whether it be because they are firmly cemented in their beliefs or because they simply don’t enjoy engaging in political discussion at all. However, speaking about controversial topics in a controlled environment introduces you to situations you will be met with for the rest of your life. It is important to learn these skills at a young age so you may lead the rest of your life with an open mind and with educated opinions. 

Even if I didn’t agree politically with some people on the trip, they taught me a line dance to Wobble by V.I.C, and I shared my gummy bears with them on the bus. We all laughed when I got scammed at a boba truck, and they serenaded us to “California Gurls” by Katy Perry. 

In our media and in our small, sheltered communities, we tend to feel a great divide between political parties. But through the Close up trip, I discovered America isn’t all that way. I found that teenagers, no matter the political affiliation, were willing to listen as long as I was listening to them too. This trip opened my eyes to different perspectives and taught me how to have healthier discussions in terms of politics.