Minutes - General Meeting, March 23, 2018

RaisingVoicesUSA General Meeting - March 23, 2018
These Times Will Make Activists of Us All:
How Young People are Finding and Raising Their Voices

Welcome from Cindy & Emma

  • Thank you to Pastor of United Church for hosting on short notice

  • Thank you to Laura for creating and organizing the art project; and to all of our artists who participated and contributed

  • Special thank you to high school & college students, especially those who helped spread the word about the meeting and the art show, Brooke, Sarah, Emma, and Ciara.

The goal of this meeting is to focus on youth and youth activism; especially important and relevant after the events in Parkland

  • Connect them to each other, to connect them to all of us, to listen to them, support them, and help each other in our activism and advocacy

  • If you ever stood up for yourself or for a friend, for something wanted or needed, you are an advocate

  • We are here to join you with your larger community and advocate for issues that are larger than yourself

  • We want to hear stories of what our youth are already doing

  • You follow a long line of youth activists; many of our founders were in their teens and twenties

Introduction of panel moderator, Nikhil Goyal

  • Done a lot of research and writing around inequalities in education and society; Ph.D. candidate at Cambridge University; how do we build an economy and a country that serves immigrants, poor people, people of color, etc. and not just the people at the top

  • As a son of Indian immigrants, has a deep understanding of how important political action is to the experience and success of our citizens; civil rights movement to eliminate racism from immigration

  • Travelled around the country to try to understand how we can create a more democratic, child-centered education system - where is the education system working? Where isn’t it working? Why? (Book: Schools on Trial)

  • We are in a period where our education system is in danger due to our leadership but these problems are not new - they are a perpetuation of the problems we have had for decades

  • Long Island is a rich county compared to the rest of the country, but we have astronomical levels of income inequality, particularly in primarily hispanic and african american communities

  • How do we inspire our young people to be more involved and engaged with activism?

  • 50th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. - during this period of the civil rights movement, it was the youth agitating for change and putting themselves on the line

  • Inspired by the students in Parkland around the country who are organizing around gun violence and gun control, and who recognize that there need to be multi-racial coalitions

  • Poor people’s campaign - bringing people together of all races and economic levels to fight for social and economic equality

  • Gun violence and police brutality have been a major issue being fought for many years, but no one has paid the same attention to other groups like BLM, activists in Chicago, that they have in Parkland - need to remember and support the youth activists who have been fighting for so long, and support collaboration between groups

Introduction of youth panelists

Katie Ralph

  • Senior at SSHS

  • One of organizers of walkout in collaboration with student government, school leaders and teachers

  • Spent 3 weeks planning the event and talking with students at the school to get their opinions, share information, etc.

  • Event was successful; even students who didn’t walk out came together on their own. Experience was supportive and positive.

  • Read the names and ages of the parkland shooting victims

Trent Davis

  • President of political awareness club at SSHS

  • Club educates SSHS students on important weekly topics that are relevant to the state of the country and to student safety

  • Bring in guest speakers (including CIndy and Emma)

  • Emphasize the importance of hearing everyone out and being willing to listen and be open

Devin McCarthy

  • Intern for Senator Kaminsky

  • Event at Lynbrook library where a doctor spoke to veterans about how to get better healthcare and mental health services

  • Food Drive with the swim team, donated to Senator Kaminsky’s office

  • Smith Pond cleanup event

Deana Davoudiasl

  • Graduated SSHS in 2011, graduated college (Princeton) in 2016

  • Long history of civic engagement

  • Was encouraged to join local activist groups in the wake of the election - first time felt like there was a community of advocates who shared her views

  • Inspired her to take the next step to go out in support of candidates for office

  • Politics can feel like it happens very far away, but when you get involved with local campaigns you have the opportunity to make a real impact

  • Volunteering on local campaigns makes democracy more tangible and real

  • Would like to mobilize millenials, gen-z, etc. to raise our voices and get more involved

Michael Pernick

  • Was involved with civic action in high school; inspired to see the rise in youth activism

  • “Trick or vote” - get out the vote event on Halloween

    • Recruited 300 high school students to go door to door (in costume) and encourage people to vote the next day - not campaigning for specific individuals, non-partisan

    • Knocked on over 10k doors in one night

    • Organized by one person

  • College friend running for state legislature

    • 25 years old and up against an 68 year old, experienced candidate

    • worked together to go door to door to campaign for this person and get him elected.

    • Resulted in shocking upset; now been in office for ten years, created a student loan bill of rights, etc.

    • would not have been elected without youth campaigning

  • As a lawyer, works in voter protection work here and in Alabama, as well as on gerrymandering cases

    • Wrote one of the briefs that was referenced by the supreme court in illinois

    • Also referenced in pennsylvania case

    • Written by a small group of young attorneys only out of law school for a few years

  • Stories prove that young people can have a huge impact on your environment and your community and the country at large

Question for Katie: What was the experience like working with the students on the walkout? What were student reactions? What do you hope will come of it?

  • Initial student reaction was rage - had recently been learning about 60s activism (Vietnam, etc.) and seriously affected by students their own age being targeted

  • Began with one student posting on Instagram that they wanted to organize a walkout - word spread quickly and students, teachers and administrators got on board almost immediately

  • Not happy that it took so long to inspire this level of action, but happy it’s happening

  • Organized via meetings; created video PSAs on morning announcements

  • Initially told the walkout would be held in the gym instead of walking outside

    • Info was shared on senior group chat and students were angry that the walkout was being changed - students were immediately engaged and vocal about it; students were determined to walk out

    • Exciting to see the students so involved, but concerned about student safety

    • Brought the issue to the principal, who responded that it was a student movement and they would do what the students want

    • The students who participated were more engaged even than the organizers

  • The junior class independently decided to walkout without anyone telling them to do so.

  • Students who didn’t want to walk out were met with questions “why”, rather than pushing that they SHOULD walk out

    • Students that didn’t want to walk out mostly agreed with the message but not with the politics

Question for Trent: What would you say to students who want to organize other students?

  • It’s not as difficult as you might think

  • It’s up to you to reach out to others and generate excitement

    • Example: learned that most of the student government would be graduating, so decided to run for office and encouraged his friends to do the same

  • There are always ways to learn and get involved - it’s important to be educated and prepared to vote once your old enough, and know how to raise your voice to your elected officials

Question for Devin: What have been your experiences in working with environmental action?

  • Smith Pond cleanup - found major garbage; heroin stash near a playground, weapons, other dangerous substances

    • Very dangerous to children living very near the area - one of the only outdoor spaces available to them

    • Important for the betterment of your community to ensure people can live in a clean, safe environment

Question for Deana: What are your thoughts about involving millenials in political action?

  • Have made a lot of new friends through volunteering with local groups (both older and younger)

  • Growing up on LI, most of us are entirely focused on our school districts - not much opportunity to connect/ work with students from other towns, even those nearby

  • Realize there is an entire network of young people who can mobilize and get out and vote

  • If young people don’t raise their voices as voters, elected officials will not pay attention to what they have to say

  • Most important step in creating active engagement is developing a community and a network - find like-minded people and organize to raise your voices on issues that matter

  • A lot of young people are leaving Long Island because they can’t afford it - student loan debt, housing affordability are issues that directly impact the youth population and are likely places to start to engage them

Question for Michael: What have been your experiences working for voter rights, and what can we do to improve voter turnout?

  • We have flawed laws in many states related to voter rights

    • Many states require ID to vote, which can be prohibitive to people of lesser means

    • Many states make it difficult to register and have very early cutoff dates

    • Election administration problems - extremely long wait times to vote, poor organization

    • Voter suppression = creating obstacles that prevent people from voting

    • Need to target these laws and change them; common-sense voting reform, make it easier for all citizens to exercise their rights

    • Often more severe in low-income communities, communities of color

  • Need to protect people when they do go out to vote - have advocates at polling places in communities where votes are regularly suppressed

    • Ensure that rules are followed, improve organization of activities on election day, ensure that no one is given misinformation or inappropriately turned away

  • Knocking on doors and engaging directly with potential voters can improve the likelihood of that person voting by up to 10%

    • We are a country of people who need to be convinced to vote

    • Call you friends, help people get to polling locations, don’t let people ignore it

    • Even if you’re not old enough to vote, you can work to encourage voter turnout

Additional opportunities to get involved:

Long Island Civic Engagement Table http://www.licivicengagement.org/

Move the Future https://www.movethefuture.co/

Audience Q&A:

Q. How are you using social media to help accomplish your goals

  • Deana: using facebook primarily to organize groups post events, share news

    • FB is somewhat obsolete to current high school students

  • Katie: movement started on instagram and was primarily shared there to ensure all students knew the walkout was happening (local word of mouth), used GroupMe to organize

  • Michael: after the president’s travel ban, social media was instrumental in organizing lawyers and advocates to go to the airports and support people affected, also connect in realtime with people at other airports across the country to share information about what they were doing to help clients and be successful in courts; also used to organize protests and demonstrations

  • Deana: also important to remember the value of “old” media - local newspapers; write letters to the editor, op-eds, etc - these often get attention in your local community

  • Michael: nothing is more effective than showing up at someone’s door

  • Trent: a lot of communication among youth shifting to group chats - allows for more immediate notifications when things are posted, enables quick communication and organization

Q. How do you reach students who might not have access to phones/technology?

  • In-school announcements which are shared with everyone

  • Emma: there is a lot of value in getting together in person and sharing ideas and information

Q. How do you come up with/deal with new or unusual ideas?

  • Trent: political club tries to welcome students who align across the poltical spectrum; students do not necessarily directly to a specific party and are more likely to think about nonpartisan, creative solutions

Q. What do you to help educate students about the political process? High school students are often registered to vote in school but in college forget about the absentee ballot process. Do you discuss these sorts of things? Do you need help?

  • Trent: brought in a guest speaker (commissioner of BoE for Democratic party) - spoke on the process of submitting an absentee ballot, that you can still vote if you’re out of state and your vote counts just the same; brought forms to register and submit an absentee ballot when your old enough to do so

  • Katie: League of Women Voters also came to the school (today) to discuss the same issue

  • Deana: this is a place where older and younger generations can work together to encourage young people to vote and remind them how things work; parents can mobilize to ensure their kids submit their ballots

Q. How do adults support youth engagement?

  • Trent’s father: sit together as a family, watch the news, and discuss the issues in a way that is respectful of different opinions and provide a neutral platform for an exchange of ideas. You can disagree, but you have to be willing to listen to others. Sometimes if you are quiet, and listen, and let somebody talk, they’ll do the same thing. Model this at home as much as you can.

  • Cindy: during visit to Trent’s club, took special notice of their ability to be truly open to each other and listen to each other in a way that most of the older generation has lost. Young people are more able to listen to, respect and learn from each other rather than placing ourselves in bubbles. Key takeaway that there is a lot of wisdom to be gained from our young people.

  • Deana: model civic engagement at home as something that is important, interesting, and a valuable part of life. Start early, make it accessible.

  • Important that young people study history - learn from the successes and failures of those who came before us, understand how we got to where we are, and understand how we can make progress now. So many of our problems now are just repeating old problems that should have been solved already.

  • Deana: 2018 is a huge year with midterm elections in November; all of NY state legislature, US Senate and Congress  up for election. We have an opportunity to make significant change on a local level that we might not be able to make in DC. This is the time to get truly involved. Also remember there are BoE and local legislature meetings where you can attend and speak out.