Josee Molavi, president of the SPHS Young Democrats, participated in the women’s march in Washington, D.C., on January 21.
An Outlet For Young People To Make A Meaningful Impact
Two years ago. Face crimsoned. Chest stiffened. Defenseless. I sat idle as the echoing laughter permeated every inch of my first period AP Government and Politics classroom, offering me no place to hide. I could not let the tears escape my glazed-over eyes, nor let escape another comment into the battlefield of political debate at hand. When I saw fit for any opinion to be shared, I brought it out, in my naiveté, without defense. My opinions met fierce opposition the moment they escaped my lips — opposition that attempted to shove them back down my choked-up throat with the force of 25 vicious sophomore peers’ convictions. Those ideas and opinions longed to stray beyond the safe space of my thoughts; they pushed back as hard as they could. I lost each time: unpondered, unsupported, underdeveloped.
I started to pore over articles, essays, documentaries and the depths of social media. Political news, strategy, theory and satire — it all made so much sense to me. I began to solidify my ideas and values by quite simply tuning into what was happening around me. I stood up to raise my voice in what I call my very own “political awakening.” My immensely passionate, ambitious side begged to get involved. At age 15, I wanted to know when and where I could start changing the world.
As it turns out, finding where I fit into this political equation was as easy as typing “young democrats” into Google’s search bar. I clicked the search button and a world of unexplored opportunities became available to me. What I found would open my eyes to the outlets for young people like me who want to make a meaningful impact. Within a few weeks, I founded Young Democrats of Severna Park High School. Met with opposition, laughter and disbelief, it seemed that no one but our faculty adviser, Christina Bowman, and I believed in the idea of a student-run political organization at Severna Park High School. Nonetheless, I obtained approval from the school administration, and I now run a successful, engaged organization alongside a group of passionate, involved students.
Over the course of the two years since founding my organization, I have worked tirelessly — training, networking and volunteering on the local, state and national level. My focus for my Young Democrats club as president is and has always been to provide an inclusive space for progressive students to discuss, collaborate, and take action on issues and initiatives we care about. Much of the work we do stems from providing opportunities for members to interact with other local Democratic clubs, political organizations and campaigns. This year has been quite formative as we gained a solid, younger membership, which is now larger than we ever had before. Some of our youngest members are the most involved and even hold officer positions on the executive board.
Members this year campaigned for the general and primary elections of 2016, registered students to vote during lunches as a part of the National Voter Registration Week of Action, and made and distributed arm bands to show solidarity after the election, making an impact in our community.
We meet with party leaders and lawmakers; lobby for issues such as social justice, women’s rights, education and the environment; write letters and make phone calls; and show up for protests, rallies, meetings, fairs and other events. Our presence as is usually welcomed with excitement as we engage with older members of the party and share our genuine passion for politics, but others at times are skeptical. They ask why we care, they ask if our parents just dragged us along, and they hint that we can’t have a real impact because we can’t vote.
Though we aren’t able to vote, there is so much more to political participation in this country than casting a ballot. Young people have a stake in the politics around us as a diverse, developing demographic — so we are able to take action on issues we are passionate about. I know that even though I did not cast a ballot on November 8, 2016, I was a part of that historic election cycle, too, because I chose to raise my voice and stand up for my ideals. Even post-election, we continue to stay engaged and involved in the progressive cause — smashing every expectation.
Mathew Hall, junior, treasurer:
When an older person hears the term "youth activism," it conjures images of Occupy Wall Street, or similar slacktivist groups that seem to favor pie-in-the-sky idealism in lieu of any pragmatic or meaningful goals. This is generally a way of dismissing youth activists as kids who have some growing up to do, when in reality, most youth activists have a deep understanding of the policies they advocate or oppose. Youth activists, generally, can't vote because they're too young; this creates a barrier of entry to youth activist circles that don't exist for older activists. Youth activists in general can act as a barometer for the future of national politics, showing cleavages and changing attitudes long before they become central issues. Otto Von Bismarck described the effect of youth on future politics in 1867 when he said, "A generation that has taken a beating is always followed by a generation that deals one," though I prefer the quotation of a more recent visionary genius: Kanye West. In 2016, Ye told us, “Listen to the kids, bro. We the millennials. We the new mentality. We not gonna control our kids with brands. We not gonna teach low self-esteem and hate to our kids. We gonna teach our kids that they can be something. We gonna teach our kids that they can stand up for theyself!”
Carey Cameron, freshman, recording secretary:
I am the recording secretary of Young Democrats. I joined the club and got involved because I care about the issues that the United States is facing and because the club teaches you a lot about policy, campaigning and networking. Although this is my first year in the club, I have done many things in it, including canvassing for Hillary Clinton, Senator Chris Van Hollen, Claudia Barber, and John Sarbanes through the Maryland Coordinated Campaign; marching in the Women's March on Washington; attending multiple District Democrats meetings; registering students to vote; and discussing important issues such as health care, gun control and women's reproductive rights. Young Democrats not only allowed me to share my political opinions in a safe space but also helped me get connected to organizations and campaigns where I can do something about the opinions and issues I care about.
Rosslyn Scott, freshman, member:
Young people should care about issues, because issues facing our country are not things we can ignore just because we are high school students. Issues like education and college affordability are problems that directly affect us, and it is important for youth to show our elected officials that we are passionate about the causes we are interested in. In my opinion, the best way for students to formulate a belief about an issue important to them is to do their own research independently, and identify with an opinion that fits closest to your values and core beliefs, not just your parents or your friends. Even though most high school students cannot vote, there are still plenty of ways to make a difference. Attending a big march like the recent Women's March on Washington, or even a local march, shows what you support. Also, we can still call our senators to tell them what we are for or against. And with social media being such a big part of teenage life, voicing your opinion respectfully is another way to get involved. The issues most important to me are college affordability, education and health care. As high school students, college affordability is something everyone worries about and directly impacts all students who plan on going to college. I identify as a Democrat because I support universal health care and because I believe government should be involved in health care, versus private companies providing health care services. Young people have social media to express their opinions and ideas. Twitter and Instagram are great ways of sharing your opinions and ideas with others.
Vivian Flanagan, sophomore, vice president:
I care about politics because of the impact it has on my life! The political climate and public policy affect my experience just as much as they affect that of someone old enough to vote. It is incredibly important for young people to educate themselves on the political process and enlist in interest groups because we are among the least represented groups in American politics. If we strive for progression and equality, we have to take action. I became interested in politics in middle school, simply because the news would be on in my house all the time. When I was younger, I tended to mirror my parents' opinions because I was intimidated by the notion of having "wrong" views. After researching issues like American foreign policy, taking courses on government, and joining Young Dems, I've formed complex opinions on our political system. There are, literally, hundreds of things young people can do to influence our nation outside of voting. For example: as constituents, you may call your local county council member, U.S. congressman or mayor! Also, you can canvas for your candidate of choice outside of voting areas during midterm and presidential elections. Sometimes, making a difference is as simple as attending your local district meeting. Most importantly, though, young people make progress through plain action. The issues I believe to be most pressing to our nation are policy brutality against black people, and discrimination against members of the LGBT community. For centuries, black people have been targeted by white supremacy violently, through oppressive legislation, de facto action and physical assault from law enforcement. It is unbelievably important that students become involved with the Black Lives Matter movement. In light of the president's motion to defer from protecting trans-youth who simply want to use their bathroom of choice, now is the time for kids to demand their rights within schools. These issues are not items to be crossed off from an agenda as oppression withstands decades against young people.
Gordon Mutch, freshman, corresponding secretary:
I got started in politics at a young age. I was in the fourth grade, and I spent a lot of my time at my grandma's house sitting and watching TV. My step-grandfather would always watch FOX News. You can guess what happened next. I started to hate Obama! I stopped with politics until the 2016 election. I was enraged by how unbelievably idiotic and backward Trump sounded. The shining light was Bernie Sanders. For several years, I grew up around my liberal aunt, spending my time reading about history. I became more and more left until I reached where I am today, a New Deal Democrat, social Democrat or Democratic socialist. I loved Bernie. He lost (don't even get me started) and I was dismayed. It stayed that way since this area is heavily Republican, the worst part being most kids my age don't understand politics. Then I heard about the Young Dems, a place where liberals could be and help the progressive cause! Huzzah! I was elected to corresponding secretary, and I take care of the social media aspect of the club. I love it here, the people are great and we have a fun time. We all hate hearing “but they're only kids they won't understand.” I like being involved because life here is largely determined by politics, and if liberals don't win, I'll lose!