A 10-year-old lobbies for change
In the grown-up world of political activism, even the busiest advocate needs time out for homework, pizza, and Harry Potter. Or so it is with Lily Thorpe, a winsome student at Mesa View Elementary School who's charting her course as the newest political wavemaker in Grand Junction, Colo., and beyond.
The precocious grade school activist is the founder of Kids Campaign, a registered political advocacy group dedicated to bettering the lives of kids by promoting their cause to politicians.
So far, Lily has raised attention, pressed palms with state and local politicos, and collected more than $1,000 to pay for banners and pamphlets to spread her simple message: "I want kids to have a happy life and get a good education," she says, pausing to collect her thoughts as though measuring every nuance. "I just want politicians to listen to kids and make it so they don't have to worry that their schools don't have enough money."
Lily - who, according to her mother Maria Thorpe, reads two hours a day - started her campaign in February after getting fed up with lackluster resources at her school. As an avid reader, she's pained by the fact that many of her fellow students can't read at the appropriate level. "We only have one part-time tutor at my school and the encyclopedias are almost 14 years old," she says. "How are kids going to learn about 9/11 if they have encyclopedias from 1990?"
Ms. Thorpe, Lily's mom, says Lily came home one day announcing she wanted to do something about it.
"I've always encouraged my children to take action," says Thorpe.
So Lily called the Colorado secretary of state to see if she was old enough to register a political organization. After getting a thumbs-up, she filled out an application (with the help of her mom and a family friend) and created Kids Campaign. Next, she set up a website and mailed questionnaires to politicians asking them about their plans for kids.
Soon the wide-eyed blonde found herself in conversations with Ken Salazar, the Colorado attorney general who's running for US Senate; Pete Coors, Mr. Salazar's rival; and John Salazar, a candidate for the US Congress. But neither her award from the Colorado secretary of state, her spot on the "Today" show, or the growing stream of calls from reporters across the country seem to motivate her.
"She's not after accolades," says her mother. "Lily has a soft spot for kids she thinks are disadvantaged. That's why she is doing it. She really cares."
Her concerns are matched by a kid-like mastery of political discourse and trend. Salazar, the Congressional candidate, says he was awed by her knowledge and enthusiasm. "I was so impressed by how much she knew and how much she wanted to know," he says. "That is one little girl I can say that I'll never forget."
It doesn't matter which side of the political fence a candidate falls on. "I'm not Republican or Democrat," Lily clarifies firmly. "I'm bipartisan. That means I'm not on either side."
One of her main concerns: the No Child Left Behind federal education law.
"It is supposed to make sure all get an equal education but it can be improved a lot," she says. "When President Bush passed the law, he didn't put any funding in schools for it. I'm trying to raise awareness about that."
Raising awareness keeps Lily and her mother (whom Lily calls her "personal chaperone") on a busy schedule, one that Lily's mom says "really isn't normal." After all, how many 10-year-olds - in addition to school and homework - have meetings to attend, political candidates to meet, speeches to deliver, and awards to accept?
And don't forget the six-day-a-week workout schedule, without which Lily has no chance of reaching her ultimate goal in life.
"I want to be an Olympic gymnast," she says. Last year Lily competed in a statewide competition with 400 kids and came in 10th.
Listening to her, or seeing her, legs-crossed and casual, before the shining end of a television camera, one gets the feeling there's no pushy parent driving this pint-sized overachiever. In fact, Lily says her father, a bail bondsman, doesn't like politics.
Lily's style can be heard in her voice, empathy blended with the untainted confidence only a 10-year-old girl could have.
"Kids are being left behind in school and aren't getting the education they need," says Lily. "I want kids to go to school and learn how to read and not have to worry about money or bullies."
So for now, from her letter-, poster-, and memorabilia-cluttered office across the hall from her parents' business, Lily works to change a system.