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Mike Dean talks with visitors at the State Fair.

The Legislative Network's grassroots coordinator, Mike Dean, gets out the vote for the U at the State Fair.

Power to the people: Grassroots Vote for the U campaign kicks off at the State F

Grassroots Vote for the U campaign kicks off at the State Fair

By Martha Coventry

Published on September 4, 2004

Not all State Fair hustling takes place on the Midway. That friendly guy vying for your attention at the U's building isn't trying to get you to knock down milk bottles for a Sponge Bob Square Pants, he's trying to garner your support for the University. With the skills of a carney, fresh-faced Mike Dean comes up to passersby to urge them to Vote for the U--the latest campaign of the University's Legislative Network, a grassroots initiative to bring the U and higher education into the forefront of the political consciousness of Minnesotans.

Dean isn't alone in his State Fair efforts. Scores of volunteers, including some normally shy faculty and staff, are overcoming their Minnesota reserve to ask people to sign a pledge to vote for a candidate who supports high ed and the University... and then to hold that candidate to his or her promises once elected.

By grassroots, he means power moving from the bottom up. "It's the idea that when people lead, the leaders will follow," says Dean.

Volunteers also hand out Vote for the U buttons and lawn signs, while urging people to talk to their family and friends about the importance of the U to Minnesota.

Dean, who ran for the Madison, Wisconsin, City Council at age 19 (and lost by five votes), is a community organizer, devoted to showing people that individuals can make a difference. "This campaign is only the first step in building a relationship with people who will continue to support the University in the future," says Dean.

Combatting cynicism

The pledge to hold your elected officials to their word is particularly potent, given citizen apathy when it comes to politics. We tend to think there's nothing we can do to have an impact on how our state is run, but the Legislative Network helps give us back the power of citizenship.

As of Friday, Dean and his helpers had collected nearly 2,000 signatures for the kickoff of the Vote for the U campaign. "This much support so early," says Dean, "is evidence of how important people believe the U is to their daily lives."

Dean took on the grassroots efforts of the Legislative Network a year ago. By grassroots, he means power moving from the bottom up. "It's the idea that when people lead, the leaders will follow," he says.

Get out the vote

The second part of the Vote for the U campaign is to actually get people to vote--especially those who have never voted before. To that aim, various groups, including the Legislative Network, will have tables all over the Twin Cities campus on the first day of class where students--and anyone else--can register to vote.

President Bob Bruininks has recorded a Public Service Announcement with Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer and two U students to urge students to register to vote, to take charge of their future, and to support higher education.

The way the legislative wind blows is vitally important to the U. State support, which has traditionally represented about a third of the U's budget, has now fallen to slightly more than a quarter, making it necessary to raise tuition and take other serious cost-cutting measures.

In a time of unprecedented divisiveness in the national presidential race, Dean and all of those who work to get people involved in the political process are casting their votes in favor of an intelligent and informed citizenship.

To learn more about the Vote for the U campaign and to register to vote on-line, go to Vote for the U.

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