C-SPAN Rolls Democracy Into Boise

The people on the bus say vote, vote, vote


Pushing past their target of an end-of-March adjournment, Idaho lawmakers were still feuding over the controversial topic of putting more technology into the hands of Gem State school kids as Boise Weekly was going to press. Meanwhile, on March 28, C-SPAN, the Washington, D.C.-based public access network, had parked its state-of-the-art, technology-filled classroom on wheels less than five miles away with few, if any, takers.

C-SPAN's retrofitted tour bus idled, mostly empty, in the parking lot of the Boys & Girls Club of Ada County in Garden City. Meanwhile, nearly 100 kids were inside the club, tossing around basketballs or playing video games rather than participating in interactive demonstrations on government.

After a trip through the bus, 12-year-old Casey Nelson seemed no more interested in government.

"I'm interested more in skateboarding," Nelson, a seventh-grader at Hillside Junior High School, told Boise Weekly.

When asked about the president, Nelson quickly answered that Barack Obama was the nation's first black president, and that he had beaten "the rich guy" in the 2012 election.

"That's because I watch a lot of Epic Rap Battles of History," said Nelson, referring to the popular YouTube series. "[Obama] and Mitt Romney rap against each other in those videos."

C-SPAN officials conceded to BW that the students--primarily ranging in grades four through six--might have a been a bit too young to take a firm interest in the workings of government.

"This is a situation where we communicated to [the club] that we were looking for a cohort of older kids, but unfortunately, that was miscommunicated," said Jennifer Curran, C-SPAN marketing representative. "These students are a bit younger than our normal audience; we typically visit middle schools and high schools and universities, primarily. But since they're all out of session, here we are today."

Curran added that she and fellow tour staffer Steve Devoni liked to "start small."

"We go over the basics," she said, "the three branches of government, and which branch the president is in, and sort of use that to tie in our long-form commercial-free coverage."

Curran reiterated C-SPAN's commitment to that coverage mission.

"We cover Congress from gavel to gavel, from start to finish," she said.

The bus tour is intended to give students easy access to programming, including a video record of Congress stretching back through 1987.

"Students might not get it right now, but then that seed is planted when they grow up and then they're approaching voting," she said.

Devoni told BW the C-SPAN bus is on the road 10 months out of the year and has traveled to every state, including Alaska and Hawaii.

"The bus went on a barge to Hawaii at one point," said Devoni. "And we had to drive this crazy route through glaciers in Canada to get to Alaska."

During his 13-year stint touring with the bus, Devoni said he's been to perhaps thousands of cities across the country.

"I imagine on a good day we'll probably see 100-300 students," he said.

As for the political divide in Washington, both Devoni and Curran said hot-button issues rarely become a problem on the C-SPAN bus.

"When a partisan issue comes up, it's about their opinion," said Curran. "What do you think about that? Why do you think that?"

What's more, said Devoni, if students want to investigate by poring over C-SPAN content, the bus allows them that access.

"It's great when they decide they want to discuss something themselves. There have been a couple presentations I haven't had to say anything at all," he said.