UConn students seek to FLIP conversation in their local government

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Following the outcomes of both the national and local elections, a UConn student and native of South Windsor, Connecticut started a group that aims to increase the involvement of youth voices at a local government level.  

Noah Frank, a sixth-semester political science and economics double major, said that through his work with local politics, he noticed a lack of representation of younger professionals and leaders in the community. This led to him becoming one of the founding members of South Windsor Future Leaders in Politics, or FLIP. The group aims to recruit young professionals, students and leaders from the South Windsor community. Frank describes FLIP as a movement that hopes to bring the issues of students and families to the forefront. Some of these include addressing student debt, addressing wealth and equality, getting young people into the workforce and providing accessible public healthcare. 

“In the broader sense it’s not just getting students into the conversation, it’s literally flipping the agenda,” Frank, the Chair of FLIP, said. “We want to flip the perception of youth engagement just as we want to flip the representation of our community at large within our town, within the state … flipping the idea of what it means to serve. I feel like for so many we take our communities for granted, and this is a way that we can really give back.” 

Frank said that this group comes off the heels of “unprecedented student and youth turnout” in this year’s elections. He mentioned that young voters really made a difference in states like Wisconsin, Georgia and Michigan by “turning out young, progressive candidates.” 

“I think we saw a lot of anger from young people all over the country,” Braden Migneault, a second-semester political science major and Vice Chair and founding member of FLIP, said. “We realized it was time to come together and make sure our voices are heard.” 

According to data from the website of the Secretary of the State, South Windsor had a total of 17,308 registered voters in 2018. By 2020, that number had increased to 18,769, an increase of 8.44%. This data includes both active and inactive voters. A voter may be deemed inactive if election-related mail was unable to be delivered to their registered address, or if there was prior notice of the voter having moved to a new address.  

According to registrar Sue Larsen, the South Windsor Registrar of Voters reports that the 2020 local elections saw 1,673 youth votes out of a registered 2,137 for a turnout of 78%. Youth voters are defined as voters between the ages of 18 and 25.  

“I’m really looking to build a model for youth activism specific to the state of Connecticut in building up candidates and candidate profiles and turning young professionals into those candidates, right?” Frank said. “Creating a platform that is starting in South Windsor but has the means to export around the state.” 

Frank wants FLIP to be able to build a platform for candidates in future elections. The group intends to support candidates and policies that affect young families and young people in town, while building up youth representation within the structures of our local and state governments. Frank hopes FLIP can attract new voters and turn them into “lifelong voters, lifelong community activists and lifelong community servants.” By getting younger people more involved in giving back to our communities, the better our communities will be, Frank said. 

“I hear people say that … in Connecticut, there’s nothing to do,” Frank said. “Well, that’s because if young people were in the room to have those conversations, maybe they could say: ‘I think we actually do want that 24-hour diner [or] don’t pass up on that drive-in movie theatre.’ All of these expansion opportunities [need] young people in the room to attract those leisure opportunities as well as bring our voices … into that conversation.” 

The “room,” Frank said, refers to the fact that we need youth representatives actively engaged and present in our local governments. For example, he said if a young person had the idea of turning an abandoned factory into a new bowling alley, that idea wouldn’t even be considered if it’s not brought forward by an elected official or a member of the public making a comment. 

“I think one of the most important things we’ve talked about is educating young folks about their local government, and through our Instagram and the general structure of FLIP I’d say we’ve done that quite well,” Madison González, secretary and founding member of FLIP, said. 

“I think one of the most important things we’ve talked about is educating young folks about their local government, and through our Instagram”

Madison González, secretary and founding member of FLIP

Within a couple meetings, the group grew to the point that Frank and others had to put together a foundational document to properly establish the organization. At the virtual meeting on Nov. 30, 2020, the group’s bylaws were ratified and the executive board was elected with Frank as the Chair. With a maximum of 30 seats, FLIP had a total of 14 official committee members, including the executive board. Members range from high school students to seniors in college, all eager to learn and be more engaged in their town. Now, they’re looking into how they’re going to continue to grow this movement and succeed in pursuit of their goals. 

“I’ve always been interested in government [and] politics, but have never really been a part of any groups or organizations,” Olivia Porcello, a fourth-semester marketing major and FLIP member, said. “I thought FLIP would be a great opportunity for me to become involved in politics at the local level.” 

Within the group’s first two official meetings in late 2020, guests such as South Windsor Mayor Andrew Paterna and town councilor Mary Justine Hockenberry joined the virtual meetings to talk to the group about the importance of their cause.  

“It’s great to know that we’re never alone in the things we seek to do and the changes that we seek to make,” Frank said. “It’s been awesome to know that there are so many young people with that appetite for change and who really are ready to make a difference.” 

At the time of this publication, FLIP has more than doubled its membership. So much so, that the group has had to create more seats to accommodate for its now 35 official members. FLIP also sponsored a write-in campaign to get student voices involved. At the Feb. 1 South Windsor Town Council meeting, students made up the largest voice and, to an extent, influenced the vote for a new town hall that would house updated facilities and create a working space for future generations. 

“I look forward to seeing our current members feel educated enough to not only understand what’s going on, but to submit public statements and have some hands-on involvement [and] engagement in our community,” González, an eighth-semester urban and community studies major, said. 

FLIP has also been working with the town on a new referendum, including a number of town improvements such as better roads, a new sports complex, better fields for local sports teams and outfitting roofs of public buildings.  

The group has set its sights on the 2021 municipal elections, and it hopes to ensure proper community representation in town leadership. Next year, they’ll start getting involved in other communities and towns once state elections are underway. 

“If you had told me, when I started FLIP the day after election day, that we’d be up to 35 kids working around the clock in our Slack …  If you told me our organization would be bursting at the seams, I wouldn’t believe you,” Frank said. “But you can’t underestimate student voices and student power, but also the importance of starting local and building community.” 

Thumbnail photo courtesy of @sw_flip on Instagram.

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