I’m happy to welcome Zack as a guest contributor. Later this week, I’ll be featuring a follow-up interview with him as a part of an extended series on Louisiana progressives. 

Originally posted on Mike’s High School Newspaper

—–Who Am I—–

I’m Zack Kopplin, a high school graduate as of this May. Quiet and shy my entire life, I had the extraordinary experience in my final year of high school of discovering my voice through the advocacy of a cause very close to my heart: the first amendment and its role in the evolution versus creationism debate.

I’ve spent the past year fighting to repeal my state’s creationism law, the misnamed and misguided Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA).  The Louisiana Legislature passed the LSEA in 2008 with the goal of sneaking creationism into the public school science classroom.  It’s a so called “academic freedom” law, claiming to encourage critical thinking but in reality advancing political, not scientific controversies through unapproved supplemental materials.

Nobody needs a law to teach critical thinking.  That is the nature of science and good education in general.  On the other hand, if you want to sneak non-science like creationism into the classroom, you do need a law.

This law is unconstitutional.  It confuses students about the nature of science.  And, as Nobel Laureate Sir Harry Kroto said, it makes my state a “laughingstock.”

Worst of all, it hurts Louisiana students’ chances of getting into the colleges they want or landing the cutting edge science job that they may want.  Colleges, research institutions, and companies will doubt the quality of a science education short on evolution and mired in politics, and will place their bets on graduates from science friendly states instead.

Advocates for science didn’t manage to repeal the LSEA this year, but we’ve built a strong foundation for next year.  We have the backing of major science organizations around the world.  We have the backing of groups like the Clergy Letter Project and the Interfaith Alliance.  More than 65,000 people have signed a petition in support of the repeal.  We have support over 50 of the most prominent scientists in the world, 44 of them Nobel Laureates.  And we will keep building. More important than all of this though were the students who were there to support the repeal when it was being heard by our legislature, the students who testified with me and the students who are going to be on the ground leading the repeal next year.

—–What I’ve Learned—–

The hardest thing about running a campaign is getting people to take time our of their busy lives to show up and help.

Sometimes it can feel that no one really cares about your effort the way you do.  You are personally invested.  While other people may agree, they view the effort as your fight, not theirs.

Not only that, people may have an understanding of or assumptions about your effort that may not be accurate.  They may not realize they have something to offer and that you need their help; they may think you have everything under control; and often tell themselves others will step up to the plate even if they don’t.  Lastly, they may have no clue how to help.

If you want people to come out and support you, you need to be sure to cover a few bases.  First and foremost, you’ve got to convince people your cause is important.  Make sure you can articulate your position well.  Be certain you know your talking points inside and out.  If you can’t convince other people that your cause is important, then what motivation will they have to follow your lead?

There are an alarming number of reasons why the LSEA is a destructive and ill-conceived law, but I decided the message that would resonate most broadly across the state concerned the economic harm the LSEA delivers to my state.  Not only is it driving away tourism, science research dollars and high-tech science start-ups, it is also compromising the science education of Louisiana students, undermining their contribution to science at home in Louisiana and their chances at future careers in science.

Another point: Your supporters may understand your cause is important to the state or to others.  You need to find a way to convince them it is important to them.  Find a way to get people personally invested in your cause.

The reason I have kids ready to take over the lead on this campaign once I head off to college next year is because I convinced a group of my peers to attend one critical legislative committee hearing. They came because they were my friends and/or because they agreed with me, but not because they had a great passion for my campaign.  Then they watched our elected officials ignore reasoned arguments, one even going so far to dismiss the Nobel Laureates because she was “tired” of seeing all of the “little letters” behind people’s names.  They watched elected officials vote to hurt their futures, and the futures of their younger siblings.   That was more than enough to fully hook them in the cause.

The last step is very simple.  People often don’t understand how to help.  Bureaucracy is complicated.  If you want help, you need to clearly explain the specific steps you need people to take.  Do you need them to testify about their experience going to the national science bowl?  Do you need them to make a sign to wave at your rally?  Do you need them to send out a petition?  Do you need them to make a phone call to their legislators?  Then tell them.  If you don’t tell them what to do and how to do it, they likely won’t figure it out on their own.

—–Speaking Out—–

The last point I want to make is about public speaking.  Yes, public speaking is scary.  I’ve always been afraid of what people will think of what I say.  Don’t worry about what other people think.  If you are proud of what you are saying and believe in what you are saying, then your message will contain the power of your convictions.  And that can be a truly moving force.

You can follow Zack on Twitter (@repealthelsea).

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