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Missoula teenagers host weekly discussion for democracy

Democracy Project students
Posted at 3:32 PM, Dec 16, 2022

MISSOULA - Sixteen years old may seem like a pretty young age to be worrying about the future of democracy.

Yet still, a group of teenagers from the Missoula area finds time in their busy schedules to meet every Wednesday at the Missoula Public Library to discuss civic engagement in a program called The Democracy Project.

The idea for the project comes from the Los Angelos Public Library, which started a similar program about five years ago. Humanities Montana visited the library in L.A. to observe the program, then decided to start the same initiative in Missoula, Billings, Roundup and Seeley Lake.

This year they have 14 groups across Montana. The Missoula group is home to about 10 members and is led by young adult librarian Linette Greene.

“Democracy is an action," Greene says. "So the whole idea is the kids are guided, mentored, to figure out a civic engagement project, and we facilitate that for them, we bring in speakers, we find recourses, we introduce them to the movers and shakers in the community.”

Greene, who has been the young adult librarian at the Missoula Public Library for 22 years, wanted to get involved with the project in order to connect with teenagers in a post-COVID world.

"With the move to the new building and COVID for two years, we sort of lost our connection with the teenagers, and I thought it would be a great way to work with teenagers and also get teens coming back to the library," she says.

Last year, The Democracy Project Missoula team completed a project on air pollution in partnership with the EPA. They are able to measure the quality of air each day and change the color of a flag outside the library to correlate with the quality and safety of the air that day.

For example, if the flag is purple, the quality of the air is very unhealthy, and people should choose to limit intense outside activity. If the flag is green, it means the air quality is healthy, and it is a great day to be active outdoors.

The program members, despite being young, recognize their responsibility to our country and its future.

“It’s going to be our world and someday we are going to be in charge, and that’s why it’s important that we know what is happening know and get experience with what’s going on," said Democracy Project member Amy Boote.

The teens come from around Missoula and go to various high schools or are home-schooled. Many of them are involved in other activities but still find time for important discussions.

"Just like hanging out and having discussions with other teenagers, then we also have discussions with experts as well," said Arthur Boote, Amy's twin and another member of The Democracy Project. "The start of democracy in like coffee houses in France to like, you know, the American Revolution, it's all been about discussion.”

The Democracy Project is a space for young people to contribute to society and work to build a better future.

"The kids are our future," Greene says. "I know a lot of us are looking at all of the divisions in our nation right now, and I'm here to tell you that these kids are our future, and we don't have anything to worry about."

Teenagers who are interested in joining The Democracy Project can visit the library's website, or visit the young adult section at the library to pick up a flyer.