By Ilana Cohen
Since the fateful election of Donald Trump on Tuesday, November 8th of last year, Beacon students have been racking their brains for new ways to counter the policies of the fledgling Trump administration. Through staging walkouts, fundraising for organizations like Planned Parenthood, and channeling artistic expression as a means of making political statements, the Beacon student body has waged its own war on the President’s hateful campaign rhetoric and conservative agenda. Yet the dread with which students have been following the assembly of the Trump administration has inspired a new level of political engagement and activism in the Beacon student body.
In the weeks leading up to the inauguration of President Trump, the “ping” of a New York Times update from a student’s iPhone often carried news of Cabinet picks and scattershot policy proposals. Many students have learned about important governmental positions they never stopped to think about under the Obama Administration as their nerves and curiosity spark a new interest in the powers of the executive branch of the federal government.
The results of The Beacon Beat’s sample survey showed disparate levels of interest and engagement in the Trump and Obama Administrations.
A sample study conducted by The Beacon Beat found that roughly 3 in 4 students have become more interested in politics as a result of the 2016 election. The study also shows that 91.8% of students surveyed have been following the developments in the early Trump Administration. When asked how many members of the Obama administration students could identify, just over half of the students could identify up to two members of the administration. Only 12.2% could identify five or more members. Students seemed more knowledgeable about the composition of the Trump administration than that of the Obama administration, despite their overwhelmingly negative view of the Trump presidency.
Their increased level of interest may be due in part to widespread fear of the policies — such as the recent ban on refugees and immigrants from seven majority-Muslim nations — being enacted by Mr. Trump. 91.8% of Beacon students surveyed were concerned about or dissatisfied with Trump’s Cabinet appointments — which was the same percentage of students who reported themselves as following the developments in the incoming administration. For many liberals, Trump’s Cabinet picks stand in sharp contrast to his idea of “draining the swamp” of the political elite. Trump has also vowed to eliminate many of President Obama’s policies, and along with many Democrats, a majority of Beacon students now face the possibility of much of their political agenda — such as a commitment to combatting climate change and the expansion of healthcare — being scrapped.
Not only are students becoming increasingly interested in politics, but they are also becoming increasingly engaged. Since Beacon students took to the streets in the high school anti-Trump walkout on November 15th of last year, many have continued to take action against Trump’s agenda. Already, there have been bake sales held to raise funds for Planned Parenthood, a No-Ban-No-Wall student walk out, and discussions about social justice in many of Beacon’s after-school clubs.
A select group of students working with Ms. Fink are taking action on a new level. The students hope to use art as a means of establishing safe spaces for Beacon students to share their fears and hopes. Following the model of “Subway Therapy,” an arts project in the 14th Street Subway station, the group has created a list of prompts that students can respond to on post-it notes that are being collectively displayed on the pillars in the lobby of our school.
Rowana Miller, a junior involved in the organization of the post-it project, hopes the project will help “combat the hopelessness” felt by students in the wake of Trump’s electoral victory. “Everyone feels helpless and writing something positive or important on a post-it is a way to feel like it’s possible to make an impact, even if it’s just on the people in this school.”
The social activism in motion at Beacon in the wake of the election reflects some popping of the “liberal bubble” that has pervaded the school environment. Students have long been supportive of social justice, but the concrete action taken by students since November remains unparalleled in recent years. Though the student body has often struggled with disunity, many are now finding new ways to work with their peers.
“After Trump’s win, the work I’ve been trying to do outside of Beacon reaffirmed how important it is to be implemented inside of Beacon,” says Hebh Jamal, a Beacon senior and a leading activist for IntegrateNYC4me, a school integration advocacy organization. “In a time where segregation and isolation constantly wins, we as the Beacon community need to [work] to integrate schools, starting with our [own]. If we want change, we need to start changing things.”
Though the vast majority of the Beacon student body may find their new President to be far from ideal, his victory has inspired them to join the political resistance. It seems likely that the actions of Mr. Trump and his supporters in Congress will continue to transform Beacon students’ discussions of effecting change and fighting for social justice into concrete action.
See the full results of The Beacon Beat’s sample study here: