YVote’s summer 2017 pilot was powerful and engaging. At our first session, YVoters mapped an array of political issues of interest to them, charting out what we know (and don’t know) and understand–and what we WANT to know and understand– about Big Issues including Education, the Economy, the Environment, Healthcare, Human Rights and Freedoms, Public Safety, building on one another’s thoughts and questions.
We subsequently engaged in some visual “heat mapping” to identify areas of concentration, caucusing about what we most want to focus on in subsequent meetings and action work.
After a dance break (yes! As Emma Goldman said, “if there’s no dancing, it’s not my revolution…”), in small groups, YVoters engaged in power mapping, reflecting upon what power is, who and what has power over us, who and what We have power over, what we have power to do, how power is distributed and how it flows, what makes us feel powerless and powerful. Many commented upon how little we had thought about power in this way, and what a new lens for reflection it provided.
We also ate pizza. Lots and lots of pizza.
At the following session, YVoters dug deeper into the issues. And the pizza.
Our guiding questions for the evening were, “What influences my politics?” “How could voting affect the issue I care about?” and “What might change if most youth voted.”
We kicked off the evening charting and discussing what’s on our mind about the news, where we get our news, what our families do and don’t talk about when they talk about the news, and what our communities do and don’t talk about when they talk about the news. Charlottesville was very much on our minds.
Based on work from the prior session–and online VOTING–we divided into four groups to dig into deeper investigation of a core passion from multiple perspectives. We drew upon text, video, and conversation to examine connections between these issues and electoral politics, thinking about issues of who we elect, who elects them, how we hold them accountable, and how we “vote” with our feet and voices, through whether and how we engage or are activists. The four issue areas of the evening were Affordable Housing/Gentrification, School (De)Segregation, Mass Incarceration, and Political Polarization.
We codified thoughts and questions about these issues and prepped to share our work with special guest, Councilman Brad Lander, who represents Brooklyn’s 39th District, and who graciously agreed to spend a hot August evening with us. Councilman Lander provided responses to initial action plans we formulated around these issues as well as context about what City Council can (and can’t) do, and what WE can do as voters and activists.
Our questions weren’t easy ones to answer. We asked things like:
- Can you bring restorative justice to those in jail?
- How would a bill Lander he co-sponsored to create an office within the New York City Commission on Human Rights to monitor school segregation work? Would it just create another layer of bureaucracy?
- What does he think can be done about political polarization?
- How can we as a city keep people from being kicked out of their homes?
- Recognizing that gentrification is not all bad–for example, it brings healthy food options to what had been food deserts before–how can we improve poor neighborhoods without gentrifying residents out of them?
Councilman Lander responded thoughtfully and thoroughly, staying well beyond the allocated time and continuing to converse with individuals and small groups of YVoters.
As he was leaving, he underscored the importance of young people like us getting involved in electoral politics–and the power we have to help our country live up to its ideals. This is the heart of YVote!
In a followup email, he noted that “our intelligence, our energy, our passion for justice, our anger at the racism we are seeing on display, and our commitment to changing the world are deeply inspiring.” We feel inspired, and we ARE inspired by political officials like Councilman Lander.
And by artist activists like Michael Moore. Moore currently has a one-man show on Broadway called “Terms of My Surrender,” in which he shares stories that illuminate the power of individual activism, collective action, and electoral politics. Sounds a lot like the purpose of YVote, right? Moore’s team thought so too–when we wrote to them about YVote, they generously gifted tickets for us to take our students to a matinee, providing terrific seats at the front of the mezzanine. YVote youth loved it. Here are a few of their quotes about it:
“In this satirical but truthful Broadway show I became inspired by Moore’s words realizing that I have the power to change and influence our nation, whether I stand alone or with the crowd.”
–Dilnoza Karimova, Urban Assembly School for Criminal Justice
“Michael Moore’s show was brilliant and extremely relevant for this country. He slapped the hard truth down on the public face, delivered quite elegantly with his sarcastic wit. By debunking stereotypes of failure with his anecdotes he inspired me to make a change. This show is the best thing that happened to America this year.”
–Veronica Vasquez, East Side Community High School
“What worked for me in the show was that I was able to hear Moore’s rich history in politics and I saw a lot of myself in his story. I don’t think there was anything in his script that I didn’t enjoy.
I liked how he was honest about his standpoints, despite that I did disagree and agree with some.
The most memorable part was him recounting how he was elected school board president at just 18. Wow! How amazing?! I was truly speechless at that moment.
I found it intriguing that Moore has received criticism and his career was on the line because of challenging the Bush (W’s) administration on their stance on invasion of Iraq. Before I had no knowledge that huge media outlets such as The New York Times and The New Yorker played such a role in supporting the war. I am eager to learn more about that.”
–Saskia Van Horn, Energy Tech High School
“It was fun! I was inspired to know that a simple power of voting can impact the country in such a vast way. He made me realize that we teens are powerful enough to bring an end of era: to bring some valuable contributions to the country, and eventually, to the world through its influence. It was the best show!!”
–Millennium Shrestha, Forest Hills High School
We were delighted by Moore’s “surprise” ending.
Best of all was his overarching message: Go Do Something. YVote youth are!
Our final session of the YVote summer pilot was arguably our most important, and YVote youth rose to the occasion. Our guiding questions for the evening:
- What do we want to achieve together through YVote and how can we best do it?
- How can we bring other students into what we’re doing to build a broad based youth social/civic engagement movement?
- How can we hone in our best ideas for YVote in order to create an action plan that enables us to meet our goals?
Not too shabby for a late August evening.
We divided up into borough-based groups to begin to design school/community-based YVote Action Teams and propose school-year goals for YVote. Students took the lead, honing in on YVote’s mission and reflecting back on our previous civic discussions –webbing political issues, power mapping, deeper dives into issues like affordable housing and mass incarceration, analysis of mtg with Councilman, “Fun Facts about Voting.”) Starting in pairs and expanding into fuller small group discussions, co-facilitated by students, each group brainstormed projects, prioritized key action steps, and developed benchmarks for the year.
Next, youth facilitators from each work group briefly share their initial action plan with the whole group and fielded questions and suggestions.
Next, we moved into caucuses. Students divided into 12 groups of four, comprised of one member from each of the original four groups (colored dots on our nametags helped.) This provided opportunity to dig into ideas from each of the four groups more deeply, with a member of the group to explain the thinking. The goal was to hone in on cross-cutting themes that resonated across the groups and begin to coalesce a plan that would address the most “popular” and pressing priorities.
YVote youth did a great job of engaging their peers. Spread out in small groups across the 6th floor of CUNY Grad Center, it almost felt like Iowa 🙂
We reconvened as a whole group for some closing Advocacy Time. YVote youth have learned that elected officials actively advocate for their ideas, and this provided a final opportunity was there change to pitch and persuade peers–and facilitators–what we should adopt for the 2017-8 school year. Not surprisingly, YVoters made some very compelling cases.
It was exciting to hear how invested they are in driving this work forward and engaging peers in becoming part of The YVote Movement. Facilitators are now working to synthesize what students presented and draft a proposal for YVote 2017-8, which students will ratify and/or amend by the end of September.