What "Voting" as High School Students Looks Like
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As the November 3 election approaches, students are participating in various initiatives to raise voter awareness and education. Clubs such as Students for Biden, Coalition Z, and Young Democrats have collaborated to organize phone banking sessions scheduled for every Friday until election day.
Senior and Students for Biden President John Grossman is a phone banking captain who has been conducting phone banking sessions under the National Democratic Training Committee’s Get Out the Vote program. “Combined with other high schools in New York, we are sending out tons of calls each week, and it's super exciting that we are truly making a difference in this election even though most of us can't vote yet,” Grossman said in an e-mail interview.
Student phone bankers like Grossman have been reaching out to voters in swing states and canvassing voters for the Biden-Harris campaign. “When you are on the phones, you get to see how this election connects to families all over the country. While I consider myself to be educated on policy, at the end of the day I am a 17-year-old kid from New York,” Grossman said. “Getting to speak with people in Wisconsin, Ohio, or Florida exposes me to other points of view, and it shows me how this election affects people on so many levels.”
Partnered with swing coalition programs and a political activism organization called Blue Future, Coalition Z has also been phone banking to swing states such as Pennsylvania, Florida, and Ohio. They are holding training sessions every Wednesday to equip volunteers with phone banking scripts and strategies. “The organizations I've worked with encourage talking to people [who] aren't already voting for Trump,” junior and Coalition Z Co-President Anika Amin said in an e-mail interview. “It's more about reminding those that would vote to vote, as well as getting those crucial undecided votes in, especially since it's in a swing state.”
Likewise, juniors and Stuyvesant Save the Children Co-Presidents Maya Dunayer and Rhea Balakrishnan have organized a schoolwide webinar to combat voter apathy. During the webinar, a panel consisting of New York City Representatives Ben Kallos, Brad Lander, and Carlina Rivera spoke about civic duty and using one’s voice to simulate change in New York City politics and beyond. “I've been feeling like there’s nothing I can do about the upcoming election, and I wanted to create a way for myself to get more involved. Even though I can’t vote, my voice still has power, and I think that this webinar is a great way to use my voice,” Dunayer said in an e-mail interview. The presentations were followed by an interactive session in which participants 16 or 17 years of age were able to pre-register to vote while ineligible participants wrote letters encouraging registered voters to vote.
Sophomore Melody Lew recognized the importance of voting after participating in the webinar. “I learned about more reasons why we should vote—not just for the sake of voting. Voting can help close equity gaps because the more people that vote, the more representation [there is]. Voting also shows which issues the candidates should focus on,” she said. “I already knew the importance of voting, but this webinar made me realize how much more important voting actually is.”
The Stuyvesant Young Democrats are taking a different approach in working on fighting voter apathy through debates with other clubs of different political opinions.“We have done some things as a club as we have arranged a debate with the Young Patriots Club to voice our opinions, and we want to share this debate in the larger Facebook groups and have everyone listen, so they can see how important this election is and the differing sides,” junior and Co-President of the Stuyvesant Young Democrats Ben Hamel said in an e-mail interview.
Hamel is also a board member for the Jewish High School Students for Joe Biden, in which he works to raise awareness about how to vote during the pandemic. “We started spreading information about the way mail-in voting would work, targeting old voters, as it’s [safest] for them to either do mail-in or drop off voting,” he said.
Through his involvement, Hamel has also been phone banking to constituents, during which he has encountered a variety of experiences. “I’ve been calling about 20 to 30 homes a week. There are many calls that are not answered, and it is rather frustrating,” he said. “One time, I called an older woman [who] I thought was a swing voter, leaning Biden, and explained to her how Biden’s plans would lead us out of this crisis and would keep her safer […] I ultimately got her to say she was voting for Biden, […] and it was a really rewarding experience for me.”
Many students are civically engaged in the upcoming election, and they recognize the importance of continuing their initiatives in the future. “There is so much at stake in this election, and as young people, we could end up being worse off than our parents if we keep going in the wrong direction. Being young gives me a sense of urgency on all these issues, and I think it makes me more committed to using my voice to fight for change,” Grossman said.
To better understand the student body’s political spectrum, The News Department conducted a survey to which 157 students responded: 25.5 percent were freshmen; 36.9 percent were sophomores; 21.7 percent were juniors; and 15.9 percent were seniors. An overwhelming 91.1 percent of Stuyvesant students support Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, with 61.1 percent affiliating themselves with the Democratic Party. While students are slightly more polarized regarding the issues they care about the most, the majority cite the COVID-19 pandemic, which 39.3 percent of respondents found the most important, considering its ongoing urgency.