Forward Montana Provides Students with Opportunity to Make a Difference

Whether fighting against the paramount issue of student debt, advocating for affordable housing or registering first-time voters, Forward Montana empowers young people to become agents of change in their community. Forward Montana trains, mobilizes and elects young people so we may have a clear and powerful voice in Montana. As a prospective or current student at MSU, right now you have the incredible opportunity to take action, become civically engaged and better Bozeman — Forward Montana will help you make it happen.

In 2004, when a group of college students in Missoula recognized that Montana’s political system had become too exclusive, they founded Forward Montana. While we’re in college, exercising our right to vote (arguably the most important civic right) can be incredibly challenging. Youth voters too often face problems during the democratic process, such as keeping their voting addresses current and getting to the polls on election day.

These determined students created Forward Montana — an organization that has since been instrumental in the passage of multiple tuition freezes, graduated over 150 interns and registered tens of thousands of voters. In 2014 alone, Forward Montana collected over 3,000 signatures in support of the Bozeman Non-Discrimination Ordinance, a city measure protecting gay and trans* residents, and registered over 10,000 voters.

Forward Montana may be most easily identified by volunteers wearing bunny ears. The programs progressive culture has wide support from MSU’s student body. For MSU Senior Elias Horat, “Forward Montana has reached out to inform students such as myself on issues in local, state and national government.”

He continued, adding that “Forward Montana has been successful at creating an exciting learning environment that not only helps you learn about government but actually makes you excited and wanting to be involved in the future of our community, state and even nation!”

For the 2015-16 academic year, Forward Montana has even bigger projects in motion. Primarily, Forward Montana is implementing the Youth Agenda Project. According to Bozeman Director Kiah Abbey, The Youth Agenda Project (YAP)  “reconnects young people to their power in our democracy.” The goal of the YAP is to create a clear understanding of what political and social issues young Montanans care about. This large undertaking will be executed through surveying and will in turn guide Forward Montana’s operations.

The message of this project is clear. Abbey added that “Policy shouldn’t be decided by only older people in suits. We need to stand as 50,000 students strong and demand access to wilderness areas, workplace protections for the LGBTQ community and student debt reform.”

Forward Montana’s civic power lies not only in their political organization efforts but also in their ability to involve youth. Throughout the year their are numerous volunteer opportunities including registering voters and canvassing. For those seeking long term involvement, Forward Montana operates a well developed internship program.

Forward Montana partners with the Department of Political Science to offer three upper division credits for a grassroots organizing internship. This popular program directly connects students to campaigns and community issues while providing real world work experience.

And for those who cannot yet vote, there is a robust program for high school students, the Underage Democracy Internship.

With around four surprisingly short years at MSU, our time to make an impact is limited. Forward Montana enables students to discover the grassroots organizer in themselves. To get involved email Kiah Abbey at kiah@forwardmontana.org to grab a cup of coffee and talk about opportunities with Forward Montana and in the Bozeman political community.

Take Abbey’s wise advice and “apply to be part of internship program. Volunteer to register your peers to vote.”