Eileen Fligor, right, president of the Evansville Youth City Council, discusses town-related issues with fellow council members during a meeting at the Ascension St. Vincent YMCA in Evansville on Saturday afternoon. MINH CONNORS/COURIER & PRESS
Eileen Fligor, right, president of the Evansville Youth City Council, discusses town-related issues with fellow council members during a meeting at the Ascension St. Vincent YMCA in Evansville on Saturday afternoon. MINH CONNORS/COURIER & PRESS
EVANSVILLE — Monday feels like a long day for a lot of people. For Eileen Fligor, her interest in politics has made the first day of the work week particularly lengthy.

Classes start at 8:30 a.m. downtown at Signature School for the 17-year-old senior and when the school day ends she often opts not to trek home to the North Side.

Instead she heads to the Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library, or hangs out in her car, finihsing homework and scanning the evening’s Evansville City Council agenda.

Fligor attends city council meetings as president of Evansville Youth City Council, a 12-member organization focused on representing youth in city matters.

The group formed in 2020.

“It does seem sometimes that as youth our voice is quiet and not as important,” she said.

That directly contradicts the push for keeping young people in Evansville, a point made by an alumna and founding member of Youth City Council earlier this year when an abortion resolution was on the table for city council consideration.

Speaking against its passage, Leslie Martin said young people are always being encouraged to come back to Evansville, or stay here to start with.

“However, it’s resolutions like this that reinforce why many of the students wish to leave the city,” she said at the time.

It’s not a surprise for an issue such as abortion -- a national, contentious one, to draw response from young people.

A Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement study form June 2020 showed young people’s top issues when it came to shaping their presidential vote were environment/ climate change, racism, and health care access and affordability.

Summer protests and rallies against racial injustice in the wake of multiple police killings of Black Americans were well attended -- and often planned -- by young people.

This doesn’t mean all youth share focus on the same issues, with CIRCLE data showing the breakdown among different races often resulted in changes for those top rankings, but large-scale problems keep their attention.

Tanner McIntosh, vice president of the USI College Republicans, said he sees his peers more interested in federal issues, in part due to the attention those issues garner in national and social media.

The senior economics major has long had an interest in government and current events, and he said the 2016 election perked his peers up to national issues.

“Often for our generation, we like to focus on the issues, and then that projects into a national level,” he said.

The group’s president, Trent Thompson, said his interest was built in the 2016 election. Things were more mainstream, more openly discussed, he said.

He was 16 then, and by the time he arrived at USI as an 18-year-old his interest in politics was much more defined. That’s when he joined the College Republicans, but it wasn’t until his sophomore year when he took on a bigger role.

Thompson said a lot of his interests have been at the state or federal level, and he assumes that’s how most of the group would feel, as well. While local issues are important, they can be complex, he said, and some students aren’t native to the area, nor do they plan to stay after graduation.

But Thompson does plans to live in the city. The senior marketing major, originally from Mount Carmel, Illinois, plans to stay in Evansville and anticipates a bigger interest in local issues then.

Neither Thompson nor McIntosh have a personal interest in pursing politics themselves, but there are aspirations to make the path smoother for those with civic interest who follow in their footsteps at USI.

Anna Ardalean, the president of Student Government Association at USI, said everyone tends to get wrapped up in national politics.

“It’s really fun and there’s a lot going on, and they fight and it’s dramatic,” she said. “It’s the big issues you care about.”

During her time with the USI College Democrats, Ardalean said they would talk about the “big” issues and invite local candidates to speak.

She plans to leave the state for graduate school where she’ll build upon her political science major and minors in pre-law, Africana Studies and Spanish Studies.

But after coming to USI from her hometown of Plainfield, Ardalean got involved in local politics quickly, thanks in part to her “never say no” philosophy freshman year.

She worked a River Days booth for the Posey County Democrats, started meeting local candidates and then ended up working on the campaign for Evansville City Council candidate D’Angelo Taylor.

It wasn’t until college that she learned how real politics work, she said, despite taking part in a “We the People” class her junior year of high school. She wrote 75 pages on the 14th Amendment and her interest in racial inequality in the law was born.

“That class changed my whole life,” she said.

Ardalean is also passionate about the youth vote, including making voting easier for college students, who she said are disenfranchised.

She points to the lack of a vote center on USI’s campus, as well as general confusion over absentee ballots and the ability to vote using a college address as barriers for students.

In 2020, a an estimated 50% of voters age 18-29 voted in the 2020 presidential election, according to CIRCLE data.

Ardalean said that should be the minimum moving forward.

“A lot of young people don’t feel empowered enough to go out and vote,” she said. “A lot of people feel like they don’t have a place in the system, (or) it’s not built for them, so why bother?”

There’s an extra element of not having a place in the system for members of the Youth City Council who legally cannot vote yet.

Most are only a few years away from voting and Council President Fligor said they’re still able to be vocal on important issues. It’s the fact they are younger that makes their perspective unique and important, she said, but that’s also a reason they are sometime signored.

In her group, there’s students from a variety of local high schools, different grades, different political ideations. And most of them aren’t in it with a plan to one day be politicians themselves. Fligor said some are planning to enter trades after high school, while others are hoping to find careers in areas of interest like climate.

Personally, Fligor has no interest in ever running for office as she currently watches a bipartisan world where “sometimes people just don’t work with each other.”

Instead she sees herself adjacent to the government, working to help by lobbying for organizations with the ability to make change.

“I would love to influence public pol-icy,” she said. “I want to be able to help the society in other ways.”
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