Stuyvesant Students in the Heart of NYC Politics
Reading Time: 9 minutes
With the 2021 city primaries coming up on June 22, New York City is narrowing its candidates for mayor, comptroller, borough presidents, and City Council members. The Spectator released a survey on May 26 to the student body asking who they support for NYC mayor. Of the 62 responses, 33.9 percent said they would vote for Dianne Morales, 29 percent for Kathryn Garcia, 19.4 percent for Andrew Yang, 12.9 percent for Eric Adams, 3.2 percent for Maya Wiley, and 1.6 percent for Ray McGuire.
While most Stuyvesant students are not of voting age yet, some are getting involved in campaigns nonetheless. Here is how Stuyvesant students are getting involved in local politics.
For almost five months, junior Anisa Palevic has been phone banking constituents and canvassing voters on the streets to help elect city council member Mark Levine for Manhattan Borough President.
In addition to voter outreach, Palevic is also involved in the policy team, where she researches issues and policies, such as zoning and education, and sees how a Manhattan Borough President can address them. “We had this really cool thing that we did on our social media account where we would post every single policy idea that the team had to get people excited seeing all the new ideas that we were putting forth,” she said.
Being involved in a campaign has provided Palevic with greater insight and understanding of the role of local politicians in NYC. “A lot of people will just go for presidential and gubernatorial elections and that’s it,” she said. “But your local politicians do a lot of important things and they are the ones that impact your community at the most basic level.”
For Palevic, she believes in the importance of becoming immersed in local politics young to better understand the way policies shape the city. “Getting involved in local politics will help you actually understand the policies that you’re told you should believe or you should not believe in. When you’re actually working for politicians you can see the scope and you can see why these certain things don’t get passed,” she said. “It’s so important to hammer in the importance of local elections so that the little changes that affect you the most are what you’re able to control best.”
“I've always been passionate about politics, ever since I was 12,” senior John Grossman said. “I've always been someone who is attuned to help and I knew once I got closer to voting age and above voting age, that I would want to be even more politically involved.”
Having always been captivated by politics, Grossman is now involved as a Neighborhood Council Captain for Mark Levine’s campaign for Manhattan Borough President. Levine is a current City Council Member representing District 7 of Upper Manhattan. Grossman is in charge of coordinating events in District 74, which encompasses the lower east side of Manhattan in neighborhoods such as Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village, Murray Hill, and the East Village, coordinating a team of interns, and running a weekly phone bank and standing canvass.
While working on the campaign, Grossman gained newfound experiences, such as petitioning, which he initially expected to dislike. “Something that I thought I would hate but ended up loving was petitioning [...] It was really rough. The first day, it was so cold,” he said. “But then I kept going and I really got into it because I found that [...] they're usually excited to [...] see a young person work in politics [...] It's also a chance to talk about the candidate and I thought that I saw more of the city than I've seen in a long time while doing that.”
While this is Grossman’s first formal campaign, he has nonetheless gained a plethora of experience that he believes he can carry beyond the political scene. “I've just learned more about how to interact with people. I've gained so much experience that I could translate into other jobs, in just working on a campaign,” he said. “I know that at Stuy [...] we’re a super math and science school. I really just want to encourage people to step outside of that and realize that things can have a lot of value.”
Volunteering for current District 4 City councilmember Keith Powers’s campaign for re-election, who is running unopposed, freshman Eric Tang has been campaigning to help elect Powers’ allies for city council.
On Stuyvesant’s debate team, Tang decided to join a campaign to gain firsthand experience in politics. “On debate, you're exposed to all of this politics and economics,” he said. “And I thought [joining the campaign] would be a great chance to get more immersed in it and also interact with people from the city.”
Phone banking for two to four hours a week, Tang especially enjoys conversing with constituents on issues they are concerned about, such as housing policies. “Small things like traffic, definitely COVID, increase in violence, all of that, and learning about what’s going on in the city and trying to help people out by letting them vote—that’s one of the best things that you can do,” he said.
However, he also recognizes the low voter turnout rate for local elections and, thus, the importance of canvassing as many votes. “Every time you get to contact a voter, they learn about the campaign and since this is such a small municipal level election, each vote matters a lot,” he said. “Just getting maybe five to 10 people to vote for whoever we’re phone banking for in that time span over the course of a couple of months is going to garner so many votes.”
Unable to vote himself, Tang sees campaigning as one of the few ways he can get involved to help the community. “It's a great stepping stone to learn about bigger political issues because a lot of things you see in national politics, for example, lobbying, you’ll see it at a small level at city scale, and it's much easier to understand [and] is going to help your understanding with national politics.”
Freshman Amanda Cisse first became involved in mayoral candidate Dianne Morales’s campaign as a leader in the Listening and Outreach Branch but has since become of the co-leads of the Youth Branch, a division that works on projects directed at educating the youth about Morales’s campaign.
Current projects include writing collaborative articles for Morales’s youth blog, hosting high school webinars about voter registration, and running events called Moralethons. “[The Moralethon] is basically a zoom event where a couple of students from the Youth Branch invite other youth to come and teach them a skill or have a talk,” Cisse said. “We’ve had a few of these before. One of them was centered on the topic [of] how to talk to your parents about Dianne [Morales].”
Cisse’s involvement has allowed her to be cognizant of the boldness of Morales’s campaign and a subsequent appreciation of it. “On the issue of defunding the police, she very outrightly uses the word ‘defund,’” Cisse said. “I found out that a lot of the candidates like [Scott] Stringer and [Maya] Wiley both want to defund the police but refuse to use that wording or stray away from very bold statements, and I like that Dianne doesn’t do that.”
In addition to leading and contributing to the work of the Youth Branch, Cisse participates in phone banking sessions. Through these sessions, she’s also developed an awareness of how Morales’s progressiveness is a double-edged sword. “[People’ll] just hang up when they hear ‘Hi I’m a volunteer for Dianne Morales, a progressive candidate,” Cisse said. “They’ll just hear the word ‘progressive’ and be like ‘no.’ A lot of her plans are very liberal, and I think a lot of people think it’s not feasible in a city like New York which is very capitalized.”
Despite these experiences, Cisse remains hopeful of Morales’s position, as she thinks Morales’s lived experiences as a single mom and schoolteacher can help her reach different communities. “I like that she’s been a schoolteacher and a single mom instead of being [in] a really high-up position where she’s a bit detached from the people she’s trying to help,” Cisse said.
“I’m generally a politically active person and it’s something I hold dear to my heart,” junior Hannah Scheuer said. “I heard about Dianne [Morales] last May but [initially] didn’t think anything of it.”
However, Scheuer has since become interested in Morales’s campaign after encountering a powerful quote on her website. “She has this one line on her website that’s like, ‘The people closest to the problem are closest to the solution.’ That line really just stuck out to me in terms of the ways I try to get involved in my community and [...] electing someone who really believes in that central idea felt really powerful,” she said. Since early March, Scheuer’s volunteered at and led phone banking sessions and canvassed at local parks for Morales’s campaign.
Scheuer, who’s interested in linguistics and is the co-president of the Stuyvesant Linguistics Club, has also found a deep appreciation for the language diversity present in the campaign and community-organizing spaces. “I’m really interested in language and linguistics and [the volunteers] have a Slack channel called ‘Language Justice,’ and I really like the way that’s phrased. It’s just community volunteers who speak two or more languages who volunteer to translate things.”
Like Cisse, Scheuer has also developed an appreciation for Morales’s campaign after participating in it. “It’s so, so, so grassroots. [Look at] Shaun Donovan getting a million dollars from his father [...] Ray McGuire and Eric Adams and [Andrew] Yang all [...] have so much more funding and accepting [...] influence from large stakeholders outside of the city,” she said. “So it’s just this deep appreciation for all the people who keep [Morales’s] campaign going.”
With the recent unionization efforts in Morales’s campaign that have led several staff members and employees to leave, Scheuer has decided to stop volunteering. Scheuer wants to support the union and believes the remaining campaign lacks transparency.
Senior Caroline Ji is a We Power NYC Ambassador, a program committed to increasing youth engagement in local elections. This program was first started by NYC Votes, the public engagement arm of the NYC Campaign Finance Board, a nonpartisan, independent city agency that runs the mayoral elections.
Ji and other ambassadors have worked on several projects such as hosting podcasts, interviewing reports, and helping set up mayoral forums. They also create content for their social media such as infographics and short videos. The ambassadors’ work, which starts in February, leads up to the general election on November 2.
“Coming from a background where my parents literally grew up in a communist regime [...] I understand that voting is not something that a lot of people valued just because it was never ingrained in their background,” Ji said. “ Being a first gen[eration] student coming from [that] background [...] puts me in a very unique position to bridge that gap.”
Through this program, Ji gained insight into the intentionality of political campaigns, something she had never thought of before. “Personally, I thought [getting into local politics was a very easy thing. [But] one thing we do as ambassadors is, whenever we do social media work, we have to post at the same exact time on the same exact day because that’s how you best the algorithms on social media,” Ji said. “Even learning that lesson itself definitely shaped the way I think about how local politicians formulate their campaigns because it’s so meticulous.”
Not only does the work Ji contributes as an ambassador help educate the youth, but it has also helped educate herself and her local communities. “Had I not done this program, I would have just been like, ‘ranked-choice voting? Don’t care about it. Don’t need to learn about it,’ and [...] when I got to actually vote, the chances of me making mistakes are so much higher,” she said. “The other day for my English minutes gift, I did a little presentation on ranked-choice voting and I thought that that was just such a great manifestation of how I’m literally passing on this information.”
Ji realizes the tangible change she can create in her local communities. “Even if I can get my family to vote like that’s already a big win. I’ve been pestering a lot of my friends to register to vote,” she said. “It’s one thing we really stress as ambassadors is the power of exponential dissemination. It takes one person to reach out to five, and those five reach out to another five, and that’s how you see very tangible results. I think that’s just been a very gratifying aspect of this whole thing.”