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The Kids of “Boys State” Are a Mirror of Our Political Horrorshow (But They Still Might Just Save Us All)

Steven, one interesting thing that happens in the movie is the fact that your activism with the March For Our Lives is used against you in the campaign. The idea of actually physically going out to change something is framed as a negative. Since the film, protests have affected the nation dramatically. Were you involved in any? Do you think if Boys State happened now, that would have still happened to you?

Garza: I wasn’t able to go to any protests because there are people in my family that were more at risk from the virus than most. And that didn’t ultimately matter, because I ended up getting COVID anyway, in the middle of July.

I didn’t know that. I’m sorry. Are you OK? Is your family OK?

Garza: We all got pretty sick but we’re all feeling better now, thank you. As for the protests, I actually feel it would be even more polarized because it has turned into a culture war issue. Black Lives Matter wasn’t that big of an issue at our Boys State, but there were still many strong opinions and beliefs about backing the police and making sure that they have the resources needed. It would have been a thing.

Did they do a Boys State this year?

Garza: Yeah, a virtual one. Ben and I went back as counselors for it. There was definitely a lot of discussion about Black Lives Matter, police reform, backing the blue. It’s a whole different beast virtually. It was better, actually. It’s not that much rah rah patriotism, needing to go to an extreme to get noticed. It’s a lot more about working together, focusing on policy, coming up with what things we could agree on, what things could we make better. It’s very difficult to argue with somebody over a face chat with a bunch of other kids also putting their two cents in at the same time.

Feinstein: Yeah, much of the noise was taken out. I don’t say that in a negative way about in-person programs, because, hey, that noise is awesome, right? There’s nothing like being in a crowd of a thousand people listening to a speaker and just feeling good about the country, and good about each other, and passionate about the mission. Online isn’t gonna replace that. It never will. But in terms of how it actually operated, it was maybe better. I remember my Boys State, us chanting “USA,” and then there’s their Boys State, which featured people sitting in rooms listening to in-depth debates over nuclear energy reactors and I’m like, “What?” It was very operational. There was this very weird sense of self-policing and order to it. I was really proud of them. It worked surprisingly well.

René, I am personally the closest to your politics, I think. And the film makes a strong argument that you’d be terrific in politics in one way or another. Are you going to do it? We could use you.

Otero: I’m not.I have no desire to do that. This entire process, people come up to me at the end of premiers saying, “We need you in office.” I guess that’s good, but it’s also kind of exhausting because I engage civically by engaging in Black Lives Matter protests and research with my community. It makes me wonder, is that not civic engagement because I’m not running for office? What kind of work do I need to perform that is valuable?

Is this still your dream, Ben, to be in politics?

Feinstein: It’s a mix. I’m still immensely passionate about the United States of America and the values that we stand for. Especially recently, there’s been a part of me that knows that we have to move forward in some ways and do a better job living up to that standard. I believe that that standard is something sacred and it’s something that I want to dedicate my life to preserving. And I still want to serve in a more traditional way, Department of State, Department of Defense, something in foreign relations, or something with national security. But I don’t know if I want elected office, necessarily. I don’t know if I’m cut out for it.

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