Yes, We Can and Yes, We Will: Taking Long-Term Action as Young Democrats

By Ilana Cohen


On Tuesday, November 8th, the Hillary for America (HFA) Brooklyn Headquarters was filled with volunteers of all ages and backgrounds buzzing around with a nervous excitement. For its staff and volunteers, HFA had been much more than a political campaign; it was a Democratic community. When Trump was declared the President-Elect, the campaign–and the city that it called home–seemed to collectively fall apart. However, the story of the first woman President, of a President who truly represents and protects all Americans, of the America in which neighbors view each other purely on the content of their character rather than on their race, gender, or sexuality, is far from over. As teens, we can and must play a unique role in writing this story by fighting for long-term policy change.

For the past few weeks, city residents have shown their disdain for Donald Trump through daily protests and direct action. On November 11th in Washington Square Park at the “Love Rally,” protestors’ chants reminded us that “Love trumps hate,” that many are “still with her,” and “this is what democracy looks like.” On November 15th, Beacon students took to the streets in a school walkout to protest the policies of the incoming administration. Rallies like these have shown the ongoing unity and strength of our city in a time of great anxiety, in which so many fear for their safety under the incoming administration of our President-Elect.

Yet protests, though an essential means of venting frustration and showing unity, rarely lead to actual legislative change. One can shout as loud as one likes, but that doesn’t mean that yelling–no matter how valid one’s cause for doing so is–will change laws. If teens want to fight the values of a Trump presidency, we have to seek out opportunities that make long-term differences a reality. Protesting doesn’t accomplish change, but rather voices a desire for change that still needs to be fought for. Many teens at Beacon are already planning their next moves, but our ability to push for progressive ideals can extend beyond school activity and into our own communities.

One of the most impactful ways to counter hateful rhetoric is by spreading the love within your own community–”going local.” The people ensuring that traffic intersections in our neighborhoods are safer, that public schools receive adequate funding, and that we can voice our concerns in public meetings are our local politicians: our city council members, and all of our community boards and district committees and civics councils. These groups need teen voices; these are places where we can truly make a difference.

“Everyone deserves a chance to make a positive change in the world and the societies around them, but [not] everyone [gets] the opportunity to do so,” says Mushfique Elahi, a high school student and Participatory Budgeting (PB) Youth Committee member in District 39 of Brooklyn. “[PB] has given me the environment to voice my own opinions and thoughts [on] what I can do for my community for the better.”

Participatory Budgeting, a process in which district residents propose, develop, and vote on project ideas for neighborhood improvements to be funded by their city councilmember, provides a unique opportunity for teens to effect change in their communities. Not only can teens participate in the process, but they can vote, regardless of citizenship or whether they are legally registered to vote in statewide elections. PB is just one of many local democratic platforms in the city that teens can utilize to their share their voices and implement their ideas.

“While I am obviously upset by [Trump’s victory], I do believe that we must follow in the words of [Hillary Clinton] because we are stronger together,” says Sarah Shamoon, the Co-Chair of New York State High School Democrats and a senior at the NYC Lab School for Collaborative Studies. “This election reaffirms that every single vote matters. Teen Democrats should celebrate every phone call they made and every door they knocked [on] since fifty-nine million plus votes would not be possible without them.”

As Sarah notes, voter turnout is key. Midterms are coming up in 2018, at which point a majority of the students currently enrolled at Beacon will be able to vote, even those of us who were unable to do so this November. We are the generation that can vote Trump out of office, and more than that, we can vote in the equality, justice, and tolerance we must fight to preserve over the next four years.

Now more than ever, the strength and energy that bound so many volunteers across the country together in both the Sanders and Clinton campaigns–many of whom were teens–can be a source of unity in a nation that has been so politically divided over the turmoil of a frightening Election Year. Only by showing this strength will love truly trump hate.

In the words of Secretary Clinton, “The worst thing that can happen in a democracy–as well as in an individual’s life–is to become cynical about the future and lose hope.” Through our actions, voices, and votes, we will determine what the future of America looks like and we will never stop fighting for that future.