With bodies abandoned on sidewalks and new burial grounds cut into thick forest, South America was one of the world’s hardest hit regions by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. A year later, among many other social and economic problems, South America remains a COVID-19 hotspot, with a recent surge of cases in many countries that is even more deadly than before.
Born out of political instability, corruption, social unrest, fragile health systems, and extensive inequality, South America’s inadequate and unsatisfactory COVID-19 recovery was inevitable.
According to recent data collected by the New York Times, despite holding just 8 percent of the global population, South America accounted for 35 percent of all coronavirus deaths in the world. Recently, an aggressive coronavirus variant was discovered in Brazil, having spread throughout South America, prompting deaths and hospitalizations to skyrocket–even in countries that have widely administered the vaccine.
Colombia, a country of 50 million, is seeing occupancy in intensive-care units hit 90% in the capital, Bogotá, with hospitals in other cities at their breaking point. The mayor of Bogotá is warning the residents to prepare for “the worst two weeks of our lives.”
The variant from Brazil is not only a problem for South America, but also a global problem in fighting the pandemic. The P.1 variant has spread to countries including Canada. In the province of British Columbia, officials have recorded 2,062 cases of P.1 as of April 26, up from 974 as of April 9. Other nations should be taking
South America’s crisis as a lesson as it could be a driving force in the pandemic.
What began as a health crisis in South America is now a humanitarian crisis; experts worry about what effects the pandemic will have on the nation’s future. As one of the globe’s “longest-haul Covid patients,” public health, the economy, social and political scars are a prime concern, which may run deeper than anywhere else in the world. Although this issue may not seem like a prime concern to rich countries who are returning to some type of “normalcy,” global involvement is necessary to handle and prevent the spread of these new variants.
On a day of such importance, tradition is expected. Every rule, however, has an exception, and this year was one of them. January 20th, 2021, Inauguration Day, was a day like no other of its kind. Some differences were the result of the pandemic, obvious things like masks and social distancing. Others were the result of a weakened state of Democracy through the insurrection, also culminating in the 45th president not attending. Despite all the factors that could have easily canceled the ceremony, Inauguration Day was followed through and consequently showed Democracy will prevail.
A direct result of the weakened state of our Democracy was the 25,000 or so national guard members issued by the Pentagon to be at the Inauguration. They surrounded the Capitol building to indicate that this time, they were ready for any attack. It saddens me, as I’m sure it does many others, to see that this is the necessary protocol for the Inauguration. That there needs to be 25,000 guards on the premises because our nation is so divided that we have to defend ourselves from us, and that much force is needed to do so. The Mayor of Washington D.C., Muriel Bowser, advised people to “participate virtually and to protect the District of Columbia from a repeat of the violent insurrection” which the guards’ presence insured. Trump attempted to make up for his hazy response to the Insurrection by saying “I urge that there must be NO violence.” he announced, regarding the Inauguration. “That is not what I stand for, and is not what America stands for.”
The Inauguration was not only determined by who was there, but by who was not. The first, and more expected, was the lack of a crowd: yet another effect of the pandemic and perhaps solidified by the insurrection. Taking their place on the field in front of the Capitol building were American flags. Usually held up by the crowd of people on past inauguration days, the flags this year were instead staked into the ground. They solemnly represented the 400,000 plus people this country has lost due to the pandemic, and the whole scene was dubbed as the “Field of Flags.” The second glaring absence was former President Donald Trump, who apparently wanted nothing to do with tradition. Trump announced his decision to not attend on January 8th, tweeting, “To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th.” President Biden, the then president-elect, addressed the situation naming Trump’s choice “One of the few things he and I have ever agreed on”. About 3½ hours before the Inauguration ceremony Trump and his wife, Melania, exited the White House for the last time, mounted Marine One and flew to Florida.
On past Inauguration Days, the president and the president-elect have had pleasant interactions to show the peaceful transfer of power that keeps our democracy stable. Usually, the incoming family, or just the incoming president and their spouse, are welcomed into the White House by the outgoing family, and they all sit and have tea. After, the outgoing family normally accompanies the incoming family to the Capitol building, where the swearing-in ceremony commences. Trump did not participate in any inaugural events, but did partake in the tradition of leaving a letter for the president-elect. Although Trump’s letter has not been released to the public, Biden did comment on it, saying “The President wrote a very generous letter. Because it was private, I will not talk about it until I talk to him, but it was generous.” Filling in Trump’s place in the events was former Vice President Mike Pence, who even greeted the incoming family into the White House as well as left a letter for the then vice-president elect Kamala Harris. This was appreciated by many, that in the absence of Trump the Vice President remained professional and a part of basic protocols. Even though the unavailability of Trump put a rocky-edge to the Inauguration, Pence’s presence assured a peaceful transfer of power, and maybe a sense of relief to those involved.
The 2020 election and the 2021 inauguration are events to be remembered. Former President Trump is the first president to miss his successor’s inauguration in 150 years, and joins history’s 9 other US presidents who have failed to be re-elected for a second term. Our democracy, shaken as it is, has overcome the attempts to destroy it. As President Joe Biden stated in his Inauguration speech, “at this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed.” However, that isn’t to say that there isn’t still work to be done, and we need to come together now more than ever. Our country is divided, something Trump insured before he left. As long as his followers believe in his word, it will be a while before peace is on anyone’s mind.
Over the past months, New York City life has slowly come back together; people can make reservations and eat dinner inside restaurants, run on the treadmill at the gym, grab a drink from the bar, and shop around at their favorite stores. However, while all of this is happening, over 1 million public school students in New York City remain at home sitting in front of a computer screen all day (if they are even lucky enough to have one).
Online learning has significantly disrupted the education of many of the 1.1 million students in the New York City public school system. According to the Center on Reinventing Public Education, low-income, black and Hispanic students have significantly suffered through online education; through an analysis of the 477 school districts, “it found that only a fifth have required live teaching over video, and that wealthy school districts were twice as likely to provide such teaching as low-income districts.” With more relaxed instructional expectations and no live-meetings, it is inevitable that students will slack off and disengage from online learning.
In addition, researchers begin to worry not only about the quality of the students’ education, but also about the effect social isolation has on childrens’ mental health. Sitting at home all day on a computer limits the amount of exercise and socialization students get.
As many cities in the United States have prioritized keeping restaurants and bars open–rather than schools, countries in Europe took another approach: closing restaurants and bars while keeping schools open.
In fact, many European nations have proved that it is possible to flatten the surge of coronavirus cases while schools remain open. For example, France reinstated its lockdown with a positive test rate of 11 percent (almost 4 times higher than New York City’s rate), yet decided to keep schools open. Yazdan Yazdanpanah, an infectious disease specialist who advises France’s government on the pandemic, explained that “the decline has been slower because schools are open, but we had to find a middle ground.” However, he added, “the slower drop in infections has been offset by positive effects on education, mental health and the economy.”
The significance of prioritizing education goes back to a renowned 17th Century English philosopher, John Locke. In his treatise, Some Thoughts Concerning Education, published in 1693, Locke emphasizes the importance of education; “Of all the men we meet with, nine parts of ten are what they are, good or evil useful or not, by their education.” Locke proposes that it is education, not going out for a drink, that makes a man who he is.
Locke highlights the essential need for education to further understand important aspects of our life, such as citizenship and government. He notes, “proper calling is the service of his country, and so is most properly concerned in moral and political knowledge; and thus the studies which more immediately belong to his calling are those which treat of virtues and vices, of civil society and the arts of government, and will take in also law and history.” Here, Locke shows how education has incredible value, and should be prioritized as it is essential to politics, understanding law and government, and citizenship.
In addition, one of Locke’s central themes in Some Thoughts Concerning Education is to make learning enjoyable for children, rather than it seeming as a task or duty. He notes, “Learning anything they should be taught might be made as much a recreation to they play as their play is to their learning.” According to Locke, just as children play at their own liberty, they should also learn at their own liberty.
As a current student attending Beacon High School (a public school in Manhattan), online learning is far from enjoyable. In fact, it resembles exactly what Locke described education should not be: a task or a duty. Reflecting on my past education experience, it was such a privilege to come into school, do experiments in the labs, physically see teachers and classmates, socialize with friends and participate in-person in after school clubs and sports.
Therefore, as John Locke described, education is among the most important things in life–and should be prioritized in New York City during this pandemic over nonessential businesses.
In the 2016 presidential election, around 2.9 million more people voted for Hillary Clinton instead of Donald Trump. So why did Trump become president? Even though Mrs. Clinton won the popular vote, Trump won the Electoral College; a crucial victory which allowed him to be in office, but also led to his inability to be re-elected last year, in 2020.
The Electoral College is a complicated system that decides the President of the United States. Perhaps what makes this system seem hard to understand is that when a citizen is voting, they aren’t technically voting for president, even though they are selecting a candidate’s name on the ballot. What they’re actually voting for is if they want the electors in their state to vote for the Republican or Democratic candidate in the Electoral College meeting (more on that later). Those who are‘directly’ voting are called electors: people elected by the political parties in each state to become a part of the Electoral College. What qualifies a person to be an elector is showing a certain dedication to a political party, for example being a state official or party leader.
The number of electors in each state depends on the total number of senators and representatives in congress. For example, California (the state with the most electoral votes) has 53 representatives and 2 senators, which sums up to 55: the number of electors in that state. Each state is entitled to at least 3 electors, but there needs to be 538 total electors in the country.
You may have heard the number ‘270’ come up around the time of an election, including last year. 270 is the number of electoral votes a presidential candidate needs to become president. For example, if California “goes blue”–the democratic candidate wins that state– then all of those 55 electors will be added to that candidate’s count, and will help them reach 270 electors. Why 270? Well, half of 538 (the total number of electors in the country) is 269, a number both candidates can tie at, so the candidate needs 270 electoral votes to win. However, if they do tie at 269, the House of Representatives decides who wins.
Another factor that makes the Electoral College even more complicated to grasp is that not all states are like California, or what’s called “winner take all” states: states that give all of their electoral votes to the candidate who wins the state. There are only two states- Maine (4 electoral votes) and Nebraska (5 electoral votes) who, instead of being “winner take all” states, give two votes to the states winner, and then one vote each to the candidate who won each congressional district within the state. For example, say that the republican candidate wins Maine, but there is one area in the state that was overwhelmingly democratic. 3 votes would go to the Republican candidate, two for winning the state and one for winning a district, and 1 would go to the democratic candidate for the democratic district they won.The Electoral College meeting, which I had mentioned earlier, took place on December 14th, 2020 (and happens around the time of every election). The meeting comes after the results of the general election have been shown and certified, and essentially determines, officially, who becomes president. All 538 electors meet in their own states and cast their votes. They all have to vote for the democratic or republican candidate depending on if their state went red or blue (except for the electors in Maine and Nebraska). The results of that meeting determine who is sworn in on Inauguration Day, the final step of the election process until four years later, when we have to do it all over again.
In recent months, teenagers have been more inclined to share their political opinions especially concerning the presidential election race of 2020. This has to do with how they’re prompted to have a greater political focus and acknowledgment as a result of recent endeavors by the Trump administration and the widespread Black Lives Matter Movement.
One question that generally faces teens, often in political conversation, is “Why do you even care about politics?” Or the question “Why do you have an opinion about politics if you can’t vote?” A common misconception in adults is that all teenagers under the age of 18 either aren’t impacted by elections or have no interest in politics. However, with the reign of the Trump administration, teenagers have been almost forced to be more politically active and aware as the administration moved closer to infringing on policies regarding human rights and marginalized groups. Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy announced in May of 2018 criminalized anyone crossing the US Southern border and left thousands of children in inhumane conditions. Even after an end to this policy was called, families continued to be torn apart and it is estimated that over 4,000 children had been separated from their parents or guardians from 2017 to January 2020 (Vinson 2020). Trump’s travel ban has also been declared as religious discrimination towards Islam by the US Court as it bans people from six predominantly Muslim countries from traveling to the US (Associated Press 2018). The Trump administration has also enacted and supported legislation that attacks LGBTQ+ rights. In 2017 the Trump administration reversed a rule that explicitly protected against the discrimination of transgender students in public schools. More recently, in June of 2020, the administration attempted to revoke the Affordable Care Act’s nondiscrimination protections which protects LGBTQ+ people from being denied healthcare and health insurance (Burns 2020). These attacks on marginalized groups have pushed teens to be more outspoken about the injustices that occur in politics. Since these policies enacted or revoked by the Trump administration directly affects teenagers, their families, their friends, or just people in general, it makes sense why teenagers would care about what’s happening in the White House as the decisions became less about politics and more about human rights.
Another relevant occurrence that has helped to compel political insights in teenagers is the Black Lives Matter Movement. BLM was founded in 2013 by activists Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi and Patrisse Cullors. The movement’s demands center around concrete legislation and the enforcement of this legislation in order to ensure equity and justice. After the murder of George Floyd in May of 2020, numerous Black Lives Matter protests erupted across the country and across the world. Many protests served as a call to action against police brutality and the accountability of police officers. The protests also addressed the larger dismantling of systemic racism that the United States was built on (Hammer 2020). Teenagers have been at the forefront of some of these protests. Through social media, they’re informed about protests happening near them and are able to spread information and even organize student-led protests themselves. Because so much information is available on social media, teens are easily able to be knowledgeable about the injustices that happen in the world and therefore are likely to feel more passionate about making a difference and being more involved.
This quote by historian Howard Zinn “I don’t believe it’s possible to be neutral. The world is already moving in certain directions, and to be neutral, to be passive, is to collaborate with whatever is going on,” provides reasoning to why so many teens are participating more in political discussion and action. By deciding to not speak out against occurrences in the world, it’s assumed that a person is compliant or approves of what’s happening (Zinn 2004). Teenagers are seeing the importance of speaking out for their beliefs and fighting against the injustices that happen. At the end of the day, it’s the younger generations whose futures are at stake.
Hammer, Benjamin. “What Congress Can Do to Implement Black Lives Matter Protesters’ Demands.” Medium, GovTrack Insider, 19 June 2020, govtrackinsider.com/what-congress-can-do-to-implement-black-lives-matter-protesters-demands-96107f5a3b31.
With the election being a crucial time for our country I, like many others, became obsessed with checking polls, and reading what the candidates were writing. In the past, I never took much time to read what President Trump tweeted. However, amidst all the madness, curiosity won me over. I checked what he wrote more often than I’d like to admit. Trump’s entire Twitter feed was shocking, somehow I’d never noticed the alarming number of typos and the overwhelming informality of the tweets. Soon I had many questions: Why was he making the spelling mistakes of a second-grader? Wouldn’t auto-correct fix his simple mistakes? Doesn’t he have his staff review his tweets before they are sent out? I knew it couldn’t be pure stupidity. I was absorbed in these questions until I came across a New York Times article that touched on this topic. This article brings up the idea that Trump isn’t as stupid as his tweets make him out to be. As I suspected, there is a strategy behind his tweets, to first engage his supporters, then to use the platform against his adversaries.
While an interesting hypothesis, I developed a slightly different take on this. What if Trump’s strategy is to be deliberately casual? It seems odd because other government officials use their social media platforms in more formal ways, but it’s a well-calculated plan. Think about how you text your friends. I, for one, send quick messages with occasional typos and informal language. When I’m expressing emotion I send things in all capital letters, as Trump does on his Twitter feed. Trump tweets as if he is talking to his close friends, an approach that increases perceived intimacy between him and his supporters making him appear more accessible. Is this really how readers of Trump’s Twitter feed perceive his Tweets? I decided to find out.
I got to work and came up with a seven-question survey, and asked everyone I knew to fill it out. Since I didn’t know many Trump supporters, I created a dummy Facebook account and shared my survey with the 680+ thousand people on the Trump Supporter Facebook group. The survey had the participants rank their support for Trump on a scale of one to ten, one being none at all and ten being an avid supporter. Of the 45 total responses, 16 people supported Trump, 27 hated him, and 2 were undecided.
There were many common threads between people who ranked themselves similarly in terms of their support for Trump. Nearly all of the people who disliked Trump described his Twitter feed as making them feel: “Frustrated and embarrassed,” “Astonished, frightened and ANGRY,” and “nauseous.”
In contrast, many of the passionate Trump supporters described how Trump’s tweets made them feel “good” and “like he knows what’s going on and likes to update us without it going through the media.” This information partially proves my claim that Trump’s Twitter is a functioning campaign strategy, but also forces me to change it as well. There seems to be a difference between the way a Trump supporter reacts to his tweets versus a person who doesn’t like him. The people who support Trump feel as if they have direct communication with him, through his tweets, whereas the people who do not like Trump feel that his tweets are shameful. Donald Trump uses his platform to engage his fans and to make them enthusiastic supporters instead of passive ones.
Another question I asked in my survey is: Do Donald Trump’s tweets feel casual, based on spelling, grammar, and content? One very interesting response I received was from someone who ranked themselves a nine on my scale, who said Trump’s tweets are “Very easy to comprehend.” When I think about this response it makes me believe that the person who wrote this doesn’t understand some of the things other politicians write, but Trump uses a language more common and comprehensible for them. It made me realize another tactic that was coming into play. I’ve heard about a strategy used by powerful communicators which is utilizing something people do subconsciously, and purposefully doing it. When a person is interested in a conversation or relationship they begin to subconsciously take on the language of the other person, whether it be using words that are commonly spoken or an overall format of speech. By using the language of his supporters, Trump feels more accessible to them.
My exploration of this topic is coming to a close, and I still have many unanswered questions, but I am more confident in my theory that Trump uses informality and the language of his supporters, to make them feel as if they have direct contact with him. This is revealing of the political climate of our country, conveying that many people feel as if those in power are the top 1%, the unreachable elite. Through Trump’s Twitter feed, they see a person like them who uses similar jargon, not just a president. Trump is more intelligent than he seems at first glance, using his public platform to send intimate messages to his followers and connecting with them on a fundamental level. If other politicians began to use this strategy perhaps some of the Trump supporters would vote for another candidate in the future who has different ideas but is just as reachable and relatable.
Two weeks before the election I walked outside my house to find the scariest Halloween decorations of all, and I knew it was time to write this article. I couldn’t sit by and let a blatantly racist symbol, a Trump 2020 sign, sit outside my house and allow people to think I supported a man who calls black people “thugs.” I decided to find out if there were other teens out there who had the same issue as me. Having different opinions than your family members is always difficult because most of the time you love them no matter what, but when human rights and other major issues are the topic of disagreement, where do we draw the line? Where do these differences in beliefs and values come from? What effect could they be having on our family dynamics?
In order to find out some answers, I took to social media to get a better grasp at how many people actually have different views than their parents. Out of 326 people, 124 people said they have different views than their parents and 202 said they have the same. That means 38% of the people I know have the same issue that I do. I decided to get a more in-depth idea of what was going on in these households.
The first person I interviewed was in a similar situation to me; a democratic teen with a conservative father. The current political climate makes it easy to disagree, with the election and social justice movements such as Black Lives Matter taking over global headlines. When your dad uses offensive terms and thinks it’s ok because “protesters are destroying American values and breaking laws,” what do you do? First, it’s important to understand where your parent’s opinions come from. In this case, the father is Georgian and in his country, it is normalized to have racist and sexist beliefs. It is common to believe that people use their status as an excuse to not work, and that it’s a privilege to be black. Being surrounded by people who believe these ideas are true is no excuse to be racist or sexist, however, it does give some insight as to what socialization has done to make the person’s father conservative. Compared to the interviewee’s democratic, pro BLM, and anti-Trump beliefs, the dad is extremely right-leaning. However, their political differences don’t get in the way of their relationship, with them saying, “I may never understand or agree with his political opinions, but I understand where they stem from and I can hate those views, but he’s my dad and nothing will ever change the love I have for him.”
Another person I interviewed was in a similar position. They are left-leaning while both their parents are extremely right-leaning. As a person who identifies as transgender and bisexual, their perspective is extremely different from their parents, who are “stuck in their ways.” The political climate once again brings out the raw, honest opinions that people have, revealing that their parents believe BLM is a terrorist group and wish they could “scam as good as Trump.” When asked if politics are a forbidden topic or a friendly dinnertime conversation, they said their father tries to bring it up, but they would rather avoid it because they know it will lead to an argument. Similarly, another person I interviewed named Abigail, who is also a member of the LGBTQ+ community says she must call out her father when he makes an ignorant comment, but has to let it go eventually because he is set in his ways.
The differing opinions don’t always have to be between democrats and republicans, but can also be between parents and children who identify with the same party. For example, one person I interviewed says they identify as a liberal while their parents are moderate democrats. The difference between them is that the parents do not think radical change is attainable, so they would rather support candidates such as Biden and Bloomberg, while the interviewee is settling for Biden and would rather someone like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as president. A common excuse from the parents is their age, saying “we grew up thinking this way, so that’s too radical for us” or thinking it’s too late for them to change their minds. However, the election has brought out the similarities in their opinions, as they all are anti-Trump. Their parents are becoming more liberal because of Trump’s actions and are able to share information with their children and give them another perspective. This is the only person who did not say they avoid politics, and rather they embrace the differences in opinions and use it as a learning experience. However, this could be because of the many issues they do agree on and the overall parties their views align with.
Even with democratic liberal parents, William says he is much more left-leaning then they are. His coming out as bisexual and participation in a BLM protest changed his parent’s behavior towards him. His parents’ political beliefs are centered around their religion, as both were raised as Catholics. This difference in opinion is causing a rift in the relationship between William and his parents, creating a further divide between them.
A common theme throughout my research is that people follow the rule to “never discuss politics or religion in polite company.” When families are aware that they disagree about a certain topic, the child tends to avoid bringing it up. However, in some cases, the parent will push the topic onto the child, which is not ideal because the conversation will almost always turn into an argument. If parents treated their kids like adults and had equal discussions with them about what they believe and where they are coming from, relationship dynamics could be improved. When will parents realize the “your just a kid you don’t understand” phrase isn’t going to cut it anymore, especially for our generation? Realizing we have as much access to information as they do, and quite frankly might be more educated on certain topics than they are, is something that should be understood.
Allowing kids to make their own informed opinion is part of growing up. Bombarding kids with biased viewpoints throughout their childhood is not benefiting them. Rather parents should be providing them with information and letting them interpret it. The same goes the other way; if a child never hears any information about current events, then they might grow up to be ignorant. Parents forcing or even suggesting their children have the same opinions as them is dangerous and unfair. It’s a beautiful thing to have different views than your parents; it proves you researched, educated yourself, and understood the full story, rather than listening to what your parents have to say.
During my time working with the Sanders campaign, both in Iowa and elsewhere, I have consistently been asked some version of the same five questions. In this article I offer answers to these questions, with citations hyperlinked. I welcome any questions or opinions regarding my answers and encourage dialogue.
Is Bernie a socialist?
What has he actually accomplished during his time in Congress?
Who are the “Bernie Bros” and what is their significance?
Is Bernie Sanders too old to be President?
Can Bernie Sanders actually beat Donald Trump? (Is he electable?)
Is Bernie a socialist?
People tend to blur the distinction that Bernie Sanders makes between “socialism” and “democratic socialism”. The term “democratic” is used to signify that it is an ideology that is faithful to the people and the electorate, not to autocratic goals. However, this still does not mean that Sanders wants to see all of the historic goals of classic socialism realized via democratic means. He has never spoken in favor of nationalizing major industries (existing government-provided healthcare is already nationalized) or centralized planning for markets, although he is strongly in favor of regulation and taxes which would weaken the immense power currently enjoyed by corporations in the United States. As Atlantic writer Marian Tupy argues, Sanders’ worldview aligns more with “social democracy,” in which “individuals and corporations continue to own the capital and the means of production [and] much of the wealth, in other words, is produced privately.” The Economist also concurs, concluding in a 2016 editorial that Sanders actually fits the mold of a “social democrat” for his embrace of “private companies that thrive and grow in America.” As Sanders himself said in a speech at Georgetown University in 2015, “I don’t believe government should own the means of production, but I do believe that the middle class and the working families who produce the wealth of America deserve a fair deal.”
The answer to the question, then, is no, Bernie Sanders is not a socialist nor is he a communist. These allegations are, as he observed in a recent debate, a “cheap shot,” intended to mislead and frighten. Bernie Sanders is a “social democrat” in the tradition of much of the current European mainstream, a “New Deal democrat in the current political system” or a “democratic socialist,” as he has self-identified. He strongly supports the American market economy, but wants to see it bring more benefits to the working class, and fewer to the very wealthy.
What has he actually accomplished during his time in Congress?
Many are quick to say that Bernie Sanders has not gotten as much done in Congress as he could have. Whether he should have gotten “more” done is a matter for individual voters to determine. However, some of the ideas espoused, such as that he has “only gotten post offices named,” show a lack of understanding of how the United States Congress works and also fail to recognize that there are multiple means by which Congress enacts change. Members of Congress should be judged by their “legislative records” which encompass the total impact they have on legislation, not just how many bills they personally drafted and got passed.
Much of the media has asserted that Sanders is the “amendment king” of Congress, which he accomplishes “on the one hand by being relentlessly active, and on the other by using his status as an Independent to form left-right coalitions.” Yet some still dismiss this as inconsequential and evidence of lack of accomplishment. On the contrary, there are many examples of highly important amendments to bills that resulted from Sanders’ work, many of which were passed under roll-call in a Republican-controlled Congress. These include but are not limited to:
Perhaps his most important contribution via amendment was when he convinced then-Senate majority leader Harry Reid to add $11 billion in funding for community health centers, to provide care regardless of a person’s ability to pay, to the 2010 Affordable Care Act, which has likely resulted in health care for an additional 10 million mostly low-income Americans. In exchange, Sanders agreed to rally liberal Democrats to support the ACA, after they had leaned toward voting against the bill when conservative Democrats killed the public option. Reid later said that “Bernie was terrific… he in my opinion was instrumental in our finishing the job, no better example of that than what we talked about with the Affordable Care Act. That would not have been accomplished without Bernie Sanders… He didn’t get everything he wanted but he sure got something good for community health centers.” Additionally, President Obama signed a memorandum dedicating $600 million to the construction of new community health centers in December 2009, at the urging of Sanders. “I also want to thank the many members of Congress who are with us today both in the audience and up on the stage, particularly Bernie Sanders and Representative Jim Clyburn. We are grateful for all that you’ve done,” Obama remarked.
Yet some of Sanders’ most memorable and courageous moments in Congress occurred when he acted as a member of a small minority when he saw that the situation demanded it. Some of these moments include:
In November 1999, Sanders voted “nay” on the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act to undo the Glass-Steagall Act and decades of financial regulations enacted after the Great Depression. “This legislation,” he predicted at the time, “will lead to fewer banks and financial service providers, increased charges and fees for individual consumers and small businesses, diminished credit for rural America and taxpayer exposure to potential losses should a financial conglomerate fail. It will lead to more mega-mergers, a small number of corporations dominating the financial service industry and further concentration of power in our country.” The House passed the bill 362-57 over Sanders’ objection and it was later labeled as “one factor” that caused the 2008 Financial Crisis.
Of course, in terms of broader impact, his leadership as a co-founder of the Congressional Progressive Caucus has made him an inspiration to rising politicians such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Pramila Jayapal, Rashida Tlaib, Ro Khanna and Ilhan Omar, among many others.
Sanders is acutely aware of his legislative accomplishments’ relatively low profile in Congress, acknowledging “This is the problem. I work in areas that nobody knows what I’m doing.” He told The New York Times in 2015 that “Passing legislation is ‘real,’ but so is influencing opinion over the long term by speaking out early and often,” adding: “I am a voice. Everybody talks about income inequality [now]. Well, check it out. Find out who was talking about it 20 years ago.”
Who are the “Bernie Bros” and what is their significance?
It is true that Bernie Sanders has some supporters who have made a niche community online built around harassment and trolling.
Some equally relevant questions are, however, (because just about every political campaign has its own vocal but comparatively miniscule sources of toxicity and “stan culture” — even the 2016 Clinton campaign): a) how much does their vitriol result directly from the actions of the Bernie Sanders campaign? And b) how representative of Sanders supporters are the reportedly young, white and male “Bernie Bros”?
Firstly, there has been no acquiescence by Bernie Sanders or his campaign to the harassment of his political opponents or their supporters. On the contrary, in a letter to supporters just after announcing his 2020 bid, Sanders stated: “Let us do our very best to engage respectfully with our Democratic opponents, talking about the issues we are fighting for, not about personalities or past grievances… I want to be clear that I condemn bullying and harassment of any kind and in any space… Remember that our struggle is bigger than a Tweet or a Facebook comment.” After being asked about this in a February 2020 interview, Sanders made clear, “Anybody who knows me and what our campaign is about, don’t tell me that you’re supporting Bernie Sanders if you’re making ugly personal attacks on other people. We don’t want your support.” With regard to Sanders’ volunteer base, the campaign has worked to rein in supporters who cross the line, stating: “Online, aides are pushing their digital community to police itself and keep the Bros quiet. And some volunteer members of Sanders’s digital army are scrambling into action, reporting offenders and moderating bro-y posts.” Campaign volunteers active in the arts have also pushed back on this problem, including comedy director Amber Schaefer, who made a viral ad spoofing perfume ads entitled “Bérnié – The People’s Perfume”.She explained her work, “The idea behind the ‘campaign’ is to complicate the white male Bernie Bro (false!) narrative and show women and people of color feeling the Bern.” She also said, “We can see statistics [disproving this narrative], but visually seeing it, I think, is really powerful. I wanted to create something that felt like the opposite of maybe what people think of as a Bernie Bro.” Sanders supporters on Reddit also posted reminders to their fellow supporters that the “goal is not to deliver the sickest burn or capture the perfect tweet… Rather, [we] want to convince people to vote for Bernie Sanders, and the movement’s online tactics need to be suited to that end.”
The creator of the term itself, Atlantic writer Robinson Meyer, has regretted how the term has come to be used as an unsubstantiated attack on the Sanders campaign, stating that it has suffered from a “semantic drift.” In response to a slew of opinions in the media, based off the “Bernie Bro” narrative, that Sanders was garnering support only amongst white people in 2016, people of color began the trend #BernieMadeMeWhite. This is, of course, one of many online trends circulated both within and outside of the Bernie Sanders campaign sphere. According to Deen Freelon, a University of North Carolina professor who studies political expression through digital media, “Sanders’s online audience is much, much larger than Elizabeth Warren’s or Joe Biden’s by an order of several million.” Since early 2019, Facebook pages supporting Sanders, for example, have generated more than 290 million interactions, while pages for Warren and Biden have generated 20 million and 9 million, respectively, according to one analysis. “You get a larger group, there’s going to be more douchebags in it than the smaller group,” Freelon added. As Glenn Greenwald argued in 2016, “The reason pro-Clinton journalists are targeted with vile abuse online has nothing specifically to do with the Sanders campaign or its supporters. It has everything to do with the internet. There are literally no polarizing views one can advocate online… that will not subject one to a torrent of intense anger and vile abuse. It’s not remotely unique to supporting Hillary Clinton: Ask Megyn Kelly about that, or the Sanders-supporting Susan Sarandon and Cornel West, or anyone with a Twitter account or blog.” In Greenwald’s piece for The Intercept, he also showed that a few “Bernie Bros” on Twitter turned out to be fake accounts created for the purpose of sowing division.
The negative impact of the “Bernie Bro” fixation is that it undermines supporters of Sanders’ campaign who are not white and male. As writer Caitlin PenzeyMoog opined on Twitter, “The ‘Bernie Bro’ narrative is endlessly galling because it erases the women who make up his base. To paint this picture of sexism is to paint over the millions of women who support Sanders.” Megan Magray, a reproductive health advocate, said to Vice: “It’s really frustrating to see that the idea of the ‘Bernie Bro’ is still so pervasive, [and] insulting to see women, women of color, and people of color being erased from his campaign because they’re really integral to it.” Mari Toro, a Puerto Rican community advocate and data entry specialist in Boston, feels less resentment than just indifference, saying “I felt the same way I feel about most internet rumors or stories that I have no connection or affinity for… I didn’t even come to resent it—I didn’t feel the epithet characterized me or my fellow supporters at all.”
Is Bernie too old to be President?
Bernie Sanders is 78 years old and if elected, would be the oldest President ever inaugurated. He does not shy away from this, and has an image and demeanor which unapologetically reflects his age.
In October of 2019, Sanders had a heart attack in Las Vegas while campaigning, and he received two stents. He had no prior history of heart disease and after two and a half days in the hospital, he was released. After promising medical reports after the episode, the Sanders campaign released several letters from doctors including one from his attending physician at the US Capitol dated December 30, 2019, attesting to his being in “good health currently.” Due to his progress, Monahan also noted that Sanders had stopped taking several medications that were initially required after the heart attack. In a separate letter, Dr. Martin LeWinter, Sanders’ personal cardiologist and the attending cardiologist at the University of Vermont, noted that the Vermont Senator’s “heart function is stable and well preserved” and his “blood pressure and heart rate are in optimal ranges.” “At this point, I see no reason why he cannot continue campaigning without limitation and, should he be elected, I am confident he has the mental and physical stamina to fully undertake the rigors of the Presidency,” wrote Dr. LeWinter.
Sanders has been asked to release his recent medical records and so far has declined to do so. Paul Waldman of The Washington Post pointed out the ambiguity of the term “medical records” by saying: “When we say a candidate should release his “medical records,” are we referring to documentation of every doctor visit and every procedure he or she has ever had? There are plenty of medical records that have no bearing on one’s performance in office, and which one ought to be able to keep private… But if we were to make such a standard, it would probably say at a minimum that we want the results of a recent physical, a history of any serious conditions the candidate has had in the past, details on any chronic conditions the candidate still has, and information on any medications the candidate is taking. Sanders can reasonably argue that he has provided much or all of that.” Nonetheless, it is a fair point that the American people deserve to know Sanders’ full health history, considering his advanced age.
Can Bernie Sanders actually beat Donald Trump? (Is he electable?)
Essentially, the other four questions above lead to this question at the bottom line. The question of electability is key and includes both whether a candidate can command a majority of the electoral college as well as the popular vote.
First, with regard to polls, Bernie Sanders has beaten Donald Trump in both national polls and swing state polls dating back to his first run at the Presidency in 2016 through to the present.
The most recent national polls conducted by pollsters rated “A+” by FiveThirtyEight, indicating nonpartisanship and a miniscule margin of error, show Sanders consistently beating Trump. These include a Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted January 20-23, 2020 showing Sanders ahead +8 percentage points, a Marist College poll conducted February 13-16, 2020, showing Sanders ahead +3 percentage points, and the most recent Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted February 14-17, 2020 showing Sanders ahead +11 percentage points (which leads the Democratic field in head-to-head match-ups against the President). Of course, these general election numbers may indicate the magnitude of popular support for Sanders but do not necessarily indicate who is in the best position to win the Electoral College.
If, in addition to winning all of the states won by Clinton in 2016, Sanders also wins Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, he would have sufficient electoral votes to win the Presidency. Notably, he defeated Clinton in the primaries in 2016 by a total of 152,337 votes in Michigan and Wisconsin, while Clinton lost both to Trump in the general election by a total of 33,452 votes, so it is not outlandish to assume that had Sanders been the nominee, he might have had a better chance of winning both states. Additionally, a recent poll conducted by Florida Atlantic University from January 9-12, 2020 found that “Sanders fared best among Florida voters [as compared to other Democrats] in head-to-head matchups against U.S President Donald Trump, with a 53-to-47 percent advantage on the president.” Also, a poll rated “A” by FiveThirtyEight conducted from February 13-16, 2020 shows Sanders beating Trump by 5 percentage points in North Carolina. Lastly, a poll rated “A+” by FiveThirtyEight conducted from October 13-23, 2019 shows Sanders trailing Trump by just 1-4 percentage points in Arizona, whereas Clinton lost the state by 4 percentage points. If Sanders were able to capture any of these three states as well, he could either afford to lose another purple state (which according to the polls, is unlikely) or build on his Electoral College lead.
Of course, electoral polls can be recycled and picked apart endlessly. There are also favorability polls which do not directly measure support in terms of numbers needed to win the presidency, but that speak to the strength and resonance of Sanders’ overall message. A USA Today/Ipsos poll of voters released on February 15, 2020 showed that “those polled consistently gave Sanders the highest marks for his values and empathy” out of both the Democratic field and compared to Trump. In the same manner, Sanders has frequently been called the most “popular active politician” in America, according to favorability polls conducted by the Harvard Center for American Political Studies, Fox News, NBC News/Wall Street Journal and CNN, all of which show Sanders having high favorability from Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike due to “honesty” and “authenticity.” Additionally, his status as an Independent has allowed him to rein in votes (as was seen in the 2016 primary) from what Gallup has found to be “the most popular party affiliation in America by far” and avoid the low current favorability of both the Democratic and Republican parties. To test the waters of throwing the term “socialist” into the mix (which is not what Sanders is, but what he has been and will continue to be called by political opponents), the progressive organization “Data for Progress” conducted a poll of random voters from January 9 to January 19, 2020 pitting Sanders against Trump in which it found that, even when the term “socialist” was used when anticipating how Trump would refer to Sanders, there was little impact on the outcome. The cue that did not mention “socialist” garnered 47% Sanders to 41% Trump, while the cue mentioning “socialist” garnered 47% to 42% in Sanders’ favor. This may be an early indicator of the limits to which Donald Trump would be able to benefit from using the term “socialist” as a scare tactic to sway voters away from Sanders. The most recent electoral test, however, for both Sanders and the rest of the Democratic field came just a few days ago in Nevada. In the 2020 Nevada caucuses, entrance polls conducted by The Washington Post show that Sanders notably won 51% of the Hispanic vote, led both among voters who said they prioritize agreeing on the issues and voters who prioritize beating President Trump, and led in all age demographics up to 65. But most importantly, he won 50% of the independent vote and tied with Joe Biden for the lead among voters who identify as “moderate or conservative,” as well as winning the “very liberal,” “somewhat liberal,” and “Democrat” groups.
In terms of ground-game, cyber-game and finances, which political strategists agree are now among the main factors for winning elections, the Sanders campaign has an extremely strong record. It says that it has had over one million campaign volunteers since six days after the 2020 campaign launch, and in the early states of Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, the Sanders campaign offices and canvassing operations have been key to their victories. Sanders is also well known for “once again asking for your financial support.” This is because popular support is the only source of funding that he has ever counted upon, and it has come through impressively. The Sanders campaign raised $6 million in the first 24 hours of the campaign, and by January 1st 2020 it had attained over 5 million individual contributions, making it the campaign with the most individual contributions ever. In January of 2020, the Sanders campaign announced it raised $25 million in that month alone — more than any other candidate had raised during any quarter of 2019. Both the magnitude and sources (individual donations averaging from $18-$27) of these sums make the Sanders campaign by far the most effective major grassroots political campaign in history.
Finally, supporters of the Trump campaign and Republican organizers alike have made it clear that they believe Sanders has a very real chance of beating them. Tony Fabrizio, the 2016 Trump campaign’s chief pollster, in response to a question about what would happen during a Sanders-Trump match-up, said that “Sanders beats Trump… I think Sanders would have had the ability to reach a lot of the less than college-educated, low-income white voters.” North Carolina congressman and strong Trump ally in the House of Representatives, Mark Meadows, stated that “Bernie Sanders poses the greatest risk because we are still in an anti-establishment era for presidential elections.” Matt Schlapp, head of the American Conservative Union, has said, “It’s a big mistake for Trump supporters to assume that if Bernie Sanders gets the nomination there’s no chance somehow he can win.” One of the most prolific voices on Fox News, Tucker Carlson, warned during a January 2020 segment that “If Sanders pledges to forgive student loans, he’ll still win many thousands of voters who went for Donald Trump last time. Debt is crushing an entire generation of Americans. Republicans need a plan to make it better, or they’ll be left behind.” He also highlighted a Pew Research poll that shows “just 31 percent of Americans say the economy is helping them and their families, and just 32 percent say they believe the current economy helps the middle class,” which shows a potential flaw in Trump’s economic argument for re-election. After Sanders received a warm reception from a Fox News town hall audience, famed Republican strategist Karl Rove wrote in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, “When only 37% of Americans in the RealClearPolitics average think the country is going in the right direction while 56.4% think it’s on the wrong track, Mr. Sanders could be perceived as an agent of change… If he is the Democratic nominee, Mr. Trump’s task will be to convince Americans that a socialist turn would be a ruinous change. Based on Monday’s town hall, that won’t be as easy as Republicans may think. Mr. Sanders is a real contender.” Finally, even the President himself has shown that he is wary of facing Sanders in a general election. Unprompted, Trump said in the Oval Office to reporters on February 11, 2020, “Frankly, I’d rather run against Bloomberg than Bernie Sanders. Because Sanders has real followers, whether you like him or not, whether you agree with him or not. I happen to think it’s terrible what he says. But he has followers.” Lastly, the attorney of Lev Parnas, a Rudy Giuliani associate, released audio of Trump that had been secretly taped, in which he said, “I think if she’d [Clinton] picked Bernie Sanders as her Vice President it would’ve been tougher… Because of trade. Because he’s a big trade guy… Had she picked Bernie Sanders, it would have been tougher. He’s the only one I didn’t want her to pick.”
The 2020 Iowa Caucuses marked both the beginning of a tumultuous primary season and also possibly the end of the caucus system as we know it. The release of vote totals was delayed not only due to a reporting app that experienced technical problems, but also to the Iowa Democratic Party’s failure to ensure a viable system for Caucus Chairs to report their results in alternate ways. While these issues dominated the entire caucus in the eyes of onlookers both in the United States and around the world, being on the ground for the Democrats’ first hurdle in defeating Donald Trump provided insight into other key problems with the caucus system as well as its unique attributes.
Arriving in Iowa a few days before the caucuses to work for the Bernie Sanders campaign, I had no idea what to expect. I had done campaign work many times before, including a significant amount of canvassing, but assumed that the atmosphere of the caucus system would change the narrative of my work in some manner. I was not wrong. Iowa’s caucus system requires that in order to cast a “vote” for a candidate, one must physically travel to a designated caucus site on a designated day and stay for at least one hour (though in many cases the process goes on much longer). One justification I heard for this was that because voting takes place on a single day for a short duration, voters must dedicate less total time to the political process than if they had to wait in line to cast a ballot.
This may have been more accurate in past decades, but I was also able to see how exclusionary the system currently is. Speaking to Iowans in the days leading up to the caucus, I not only had to convince them that they should caucus for my candidate, but I also had to ensure that they had the means and the time to physically attend their caucus. With this came many obstacles, the first of which was knowing which caucus site to attend. This changes with every election cycle and, with this one, it was changed for many individuals in the period leading up to the caucus date to accommodate fluctuations in expected caucusgoers at different sites and other factors. After deducing which site to attend, any prospective caucusgoer then has to be able to arrive no later than 7 p.m. on caucus day. To ensure that people would be able to do so, I asked if they had transportation and if they did not, helped them organize with others who could give them a ride. If I noticed that they were a parent or caretaker, I informed them that, unlike in previous years, caucusgoers were allowed to bring children to their caucus site for the duration of the event.
Helping individuals create a plan to attend their caucus was a fulfilling and rewarding experience. However, I experienced a lot of heartbreak when speaking to Iowans who told me that they would not be able to caucus due to chronic illness, disability, work, or prior commitments. These obstacles are to be expected in any democratic society. The difference between the caucuses in Iowa and the primaries in other states, though, is that the Iowa Democratic Party has not instituted any mechanism, such as absentee ballots or online caucuses, which might accommodate those with such impediments.
In the primaries of other states, individuals routinely exercise their democratic rights through extended voting periods or absentee measures. But the nature of the caucus system, requiring on-site interaction, precludes such options. According to the former Chair of the Iowa Democratic Party, Scott Brennan, the use of absentee ballots would erode “the sense of community that makes our caucuses so special.” Over the past few decades, small amendments have been made to render the caucuses more accessible, such as the establishment of satellite caucuses. But, as many Iowans told me, the increases in outside funding, political theatrics and measures to suppress the vote have made it impossible for the caucuses to serve their original and true purpose: to bring residents of a precinct together in a shared space to engage in constructive debate and adequately allocate delegates based on how individuals align themselves in support of candidates.
My experience in Iowa illustrates this sentiment. After a few long days and nights knocking on doors and organizing events and outreach, I was assigned to a precinct at a recreational center in Iowa City as a “Deputy Ambassador” for the Bernie Sanders campaign. This meant that I was responsible, along with another Ambassador, to guide caucusgoers to the Sanders corner of the room if they were supporters and to try to persuade them to do so if they were not. We got to the site early and while we thought at first that the room was spacious enough to clearly define who supported which candidate, the caucus quickly swelled from around 15 people when the doors opened to 281 at the first alignment.
I rushed to tape Bernie signs as high as possible on the wall so that people could see our location in the room and also made sure that everyone in our corner got an “I’m Canvassing for Bernie” sticker. Our corner was adjacent to that of the Joe Biden campaign and it quickly became apparent that our swelling number of supporters was overflowing into that campaign’s corner. After establishing the group’s “territory,” a small group of about 20 Andrew Yang supporters claimed their stake near the entrance door but mostly still mixed in with the Bernie group, distinguishing themselves only by a large “Yang 2020” sign on a stick. The Buttigieg and Warren groups were situated on the opposite corners of the rectangular room, but were so close to each other that it was hard to tell them apart. Lastly, a small Klobuchar group established itself beside Biden’s group with a homemade sign, also hard to distinguish from the Biden group. The situation was somewhat confusing, though not completely chaotic, and we were able to ensure that every caucusgoer in our group received a Presidential Preference Card (essentially a ballot). After the first alignment, we were in the lead with 95, with Warren at 74, Buttigieg at 50, Biden at 23, Yang at 21 and Klobuchar at 16, among other smaller, undecided groups. Cory Booker and Michael Bennet each received a single vote. The viability threshold in our precinct, as in most others of our size, was 15%. This made every group unviable except Buttigieg, Warren and Sanders. We were then given a mere 15 minutes to realign.
Our Bernie team quickly huddled and devised a plan to split up to reach out to the unviable groups. As soon as the Caucus Chair said “Begin,” the Warren, Buttigieg and Sanders caucusgoers either left the room (because their candidate was viable and they could), or else rushed to attempt to win over members of one of the unviable groups. I went to the Yang group and was able to successfully bring four of them over to the Sanders group by explaining the similarity of the two candidates’ goals and visions for the middle class in the wake of increasing corporate profits and the displacement of workers through automation. Other members of my team, including some very passionate caucusgoers, were able to convince some undecided voters and Biden supporters to join the Bernie group. Most of the Yang group left, not wishing to realign, while many of the Klobuchar and Biden caucusgoers went straight to Buttigieg. Some Klobuchar caucusgoers also went straight for Warren.
In the end, my precinct had 7 State Delegates to allocate based on its number of caucusgoers. Sanders won three of them with 105 final voters, Warren won two with 92 final voters and Buttigieg also won two with 71 final voters. In terms of “State Delegate Equivalents,” which are projected numbers of state party convention delegates that candidates will receive proportional to their precinct size, Sanders won 1.22 while Warren and Buttigieg each won 0.81. State Delegates will then go on to elect delegates to the Democratic National Convention (to be held in Milwaukee, in July) of which a majority nominate the Democratic presidential candidate. Acknowledging that these results may change with a recount stemming from alleged inaccuracies in Iowa delegate allocation, as of February 11 Pete Buttigieg won the most pledged delegates with 14, although Bernie Sanders won a plurality of votes, both in the first and final rounds, and won 12 delegates.
The organization of the caucuses themselves was only the beginning of problems in counting delegates. While I was celebrating the end of the caucuses that night with the Sanders campaign in Iowa City, it quickly became apparent that Caucus Chairs were having difficulties reporting results to the Iowa Democratic Party. We were of course disappointed that the results did not get disseminated before we all had to part ways to return home that evening. However, we never could have imagined then that it would take multiple days for the entirety of the results to be announced or that the blame would be primarily attributed to an app developed by a company named “Shadow”.
There were at least two parts to the failure of the Iowa Democratic Party to manage the caucuses. While the media focused almost entirely on the app, in reality the app was made available to Caucus Chairs to use if they wanted, but was not mandated by the state party and thus cannot be solely blamed for the ensuing fiasco. The real problem was that when it experienced glitches, party leaders failed to effectively utilize a backup system to gather the results. While the scandal over the app might have been the last straw needed to end the Iowa caucus system, it is arguably the least grave of the problems of the system. Along with the multiple ways in which the caucus system limits participation, many in the Democratic Party do not see why Iowa, a state with an over 90% white population, should unilaterally be given the importance of hosting the first test of Presidential candidates in the nation. For a Democratic Party that increasingly sees its strength in the diversity of its supporters, this view has rightfully gained significant traction.
As someone who loves the political system and seeing it in action, the caucuses were a powerful window through which to witness small-scale democracy, and I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in them. However, our focus, both as a party and as a country, should be to extend the right to vote to all without hindrance, and the caucus system undeniably works in opposition to this goal. While there are a multitude of ways to expand the caucus system such as through online caucuses and absentee measures, these would just open the process up to further complications with counting votes and allocating delegates (including possible cybersecurity threats) as well as remove the supposed original appeal of the caucus system itself. As Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois stated, “I think the Democratic caucus in Iowa is a quirky, quaint tradition which should come to an end. As we try to make voting easier for people across America, the Iowa caucus is the most painful situation we currently face for voting.” It is time to conclude that the caucus process is not suitable for democracy in the 21st century, which must be as inclusive a process as possible while simultaneously diminishing the risk of cyberthreats, miscounts and technical errors. While recognizing the initial appeal and function of the caucus process, the caucus system must now be relegated to history so that, as the Constitution proclaims, “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged.”
Early last Thursday morning, Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland passed away in Baltimore, aged 68. For many, Cummings represented the best of both Congress and the Democratic Party. In his later years as a Congressman, particularly during the Trump Presidency, Cummings made his mark on what he perceived to be a lack of morality and decency in government. Yet because Cummings did not attract as much publicity as many of his younger colleagues, it is plausible that many Beacon students know little of Cummings’ life and legacy. While he had four whole decades of valorous public service spanning from the Maryland House of Delegates to Committee Chairmanship in the House of Representatives, just his leadership in the tumultuous last few years shows what a tremendous loss his death is for both Congress and this country.
As Chair of the House Oversight Committee since January of this year, Cummings oversaw many contentious hearings and testimonies, with the public able to see his devotion to progressive causes and bipartisanship through how he handled his Committee in heated political times. This was particularly displayed during Michael Cohen’s hearing on February 27th. After Cohen provided damning testimony concerning his work as Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Cummings offered empathy to a man who he believed wanted to right his wrongs. Cummings said he tells his kids that “When bad things happen to you, do not ask the question: Why did it happen to me? Ask the question: Why did it happen for me?” And then to Cohen, he said “I don’t know why this is happening for you. But it is my hope that a small part of it is for our country to be better.” Cummings then cited the facts of Trump’s record amount of misleading statements and him calling Cohen a “rat” as ways in which we have deviated from normalcy, pleading for people to act and to not stand on the sidelines. He concluded by graciously thanking Cohen for his decision to come forward.
Additionally, Cummings had a strong sense of morality that is desperately needed in government. On February 6, Cummings spoke strongly in favor of HR 1, a bill meant to protect voting rights and limit corruption in government. He cited his Mother’s last words as being “Do not let them take our votes away from us,” and recounted the history of oppression at the ballot box that has plagued and continues to plague this country and groups of oppressed minorities. He went on to forcefully say “I don’t give a damn how you look at it! There are efforts to stop people from voting, that’s not right! This is not Russia! This is the United States of America!” On July 18, Kevin McAleenan, the former acting Homeland Security Secretary, appeared before Cummings’ committee. After McAleenan said that he was doing his “level-best” of a job he could in regard to the detention of migrants at the border, Cummings strongly retorted, “What does that mean? What does that mean when a child is sitting in their own feces? Can’t take a shower? Come on man! What’s that about? None of us would have our own children in that position! They are human beings! We are the United States of America… We’re better than that!”
The episode which perhaps got him the most media coverage in the past year was the way he mediated a conflict between Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina. At the same Cohen hearing on February 27th, Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina presented Lynne Patton, a Trump Administration member and former member of the Trump organization, to rebut Cohen’s assertion that President Trump is a “racist,” because Patton is African-American. Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan took issue with this, saying “The fact that someone would actually use a prop, a black woman, in this chamber in this committee is alone racist in itself.” Meadows interrupted, asking for her comments to be erased from the record as he found them to be personally offensive. Cummings then took control of the hearing and asked Tlaib if she would like to “re-phrase that statement.” After she cleared up that she was not calling Meadows a racist, but instead saying using Patton as a “prop” was a “racist act,” Cummings said that “Mr. Meadows, you know… of all the people on this committee… I’ve said it and got in trouble for it – that you’re one of my best friends. I know that shocks a lot of people… I could see and feel your pain, I feel it. And so, and I don’t think Ms. Tlaib intended to cause you that, that kind of pain and that kind of frustration.” By these words, Cummings was able to diffuse a toxic situation, which we can all learn from in our handling of future experiences with tense political discourse.
Cummings represented the very best of government, and the only way to carry his message forward is to reach across political and ideological boundaries, fight like hell for what is right, and offer a helping hand to everyone, but especially those who need it. The example he set should not only be reflected in our actions as citizens but also by those in elected office, who are more prone to scrutiny and harsh disagreement. We will need more leaders like Elijah Cummings to maintain dignity and respect for all in this country through a present time of turbulence. To conclude, my favorite quote of the Chairman is: “When we’re dancing with the angels, the question will be asked: In 2019, what did we do to make sure we kept our democracy intact? Did we stand on the sidelines and say nothing?” Ask yourself this question truthfully, and make sure to act on it.
On September 20, 2019, passionate students, inspired parents, and dedicated teachers all took to the streets to make a statement and support their brave counterparts. Greta Thunberg, a Swedish and now universally-recognized climate change activist reaching just sixteen years old had sailed all the way from Plymouth, England, to New York City to further her dedication towards the fight against climate injustice in legislation. Over three million people showed support.
At 12:00 pm, students from all five boroughs of New York City gathered in Foley Square to start an impactful day. After speeches and performances from a few notable activists, including Chirlane McCray, the First Lady of New York, students, parents, and teachers raised their signs and ventured to city hall park awaiting performances from popular musicians Jayden and Willow Smith.
Despite the high turnout of eager students and teachers, some students chose not to miss the school day. Many students across the country decided that their schoolwork seemed more important than a walkout which they didn’t find effective. A senior at Beacon who chose to remain in school argued that the walkout would not make a difference with the support of the school because “the whole point of a walkout is that you’re doing it against the will of your administrators.” The administration at Beacon was in full support of the walkout, centering the first half of the school day around the issue of climate change and relieving students of absences on their official transcripts. Many students who opted not to attend the march have the same belief. They believe that at schools like Beacon remove the significance of the walkout. Not only did these students find the walkout ineffective due to the administrative input, but the support from government officials who the walkout was intended to affect as well. Support is not influential when action isn’t being taken to help. The goal of a walkout is to leave school for a cause which cannot afford to be ignored, despite the consequences it could entail. By having permission, this goal is diminished.
Not only were certain students who walked out put off by the march, but those who attended were discomforted by what took place. Students reported that the presence of pop music performances overshadowed the overarching goal of the march. While chanting “climate change is not a lie, do not let our planet die”, desperate students’ voices were drowned out by the Smith siblings performing their latest hits to a crowd too excited by their presence to maintain their strong spirits.
However, even if the walkout does not resemble a traditional one, it is still a protest. The voices of the youth can be heard in a mass fashion. Additionally, the idea of a walkout motivates more students to attend. Students who would not otherwise attend a protest feel more of an incentive to attend when they know their peers will be there. The common fear that they will have to act alone is no longer. Protest in any shape or form is effective in change, and could not be possible without the contribution of the youth, whether they act against the will of their administration or not.
While a sense of objection towards the walkout was present, there were many factors that the Beacon School administration worked on in order to morph make students more compelled to participate for the right reasons. Often times, it has been said that the administration feels as though it is challenging for them to remain assured that students are walking out because they genuinely care, not simply to join the bandwagon or project themselves a specific way. Noting this, the administration actively implemented workshops centered around climate change in place of typical school for the day of the scheduled walkout.
When interviewed about these informative workshops, an eleventh grade student who prefers to remain anonymous stated “I think that these workshops were a step in the right direction… the way things are looking now, climate change is unavoidable and impending… therefore we should be exposed to knowledge and workshops regarding it as that.” The attitude that he expresses seems to wholistically encapsulate a general theme of Beacon students reactions to this new concept.
In contrast, when prompted with the question of how impactful they felt partaking in the march, an eleventh grade Brooklyn Tech student stated, “I don’t really know… I took part in this march because I wanted to feel like I was impacting something that I know impacts me.. But sometimes in situations like this I just feel like there is a present high energy attitude that only peaks in the moment, you know… it doesn’t seem to carry out beyond the march itself.”
These opinions raise an interesting question: Being that the protest was tailored to represent the students protesting, would it have been more effective if the events were geared towards the politicians and lawmakers on the receiving end?
On February 10th 2019, engulfed by the fury of a rust belt blizzard, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota announced she was a candidate for President of the United States. Klobuchar joins a large –and diverse– group of Democrats hoping to to win the nomination. Among the frontrunners are four other female politicians: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA). Klobuchar’s announcement was met with scandal, the type that only seems to plague female candidates. In the week preceding her announcement the Huffington Post and Buzzfeed published articles slamming her as being ‘aggressive’, ‘cruel’, and ‘abusive’ toward her staff.
According to sources close to Klobuchar, “three people have withdrawn from consideration to lead Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s nascent 2020 presidential campaign” because of her reputation as a tough boss. For years rumors have flown around D.C that Klobuchar is one of the worst Senator’s to work for. The Huffington Post quoted former Klobuchar staffers as saying her office is “controlled by fear, anger, and shame.” These former staffers note how the Senator “demeaned and berated her staff almost daily” freaking out if comma’s were used incorrectly and if her ipad was not charged. Once, she even chucked a binder and accidently hit a staff member. The New York Times recently released an article detailing how Klobuchar had eaten her salad with a comb and then made an aide clean the comb after he forgot to get her a fork. History has administered passes to ‘tough’ male bosses like Richard Nixon, while solely condemning female politicians like Hillary Clinton for being a ‘bitch.’
Yes, working for Klobuchar’s sound’s awful. Yes, her actions are reprehensible. Yes, voters should take her treatment of her staff into account in the ballot box. However, the media’s wall to wall coverage of this ‘scandal’ is pure sexism. When you google Amy Klobuchar her behavior, not her political record is the first thing to pop up. Klobuchar is a two term Senator who just won re-election by 24 percentage points in a state Donald Trump lost by a singular point. Of every Senator, male and female, Klobuchar has past the most legislation during her tenure. She is a highly skilled legislator who is an incredibly successful Senator.
President Trump, like Klobuchar, has been known to be hard on his staff. In two years the present administration has shed forty-two senior staffers and cabinet secretaries. The media has turned a blind eye to the Trump administration’s staff disfunction, choosing to focus on more attention grabbing headlines. When it comes to Amy Klobuchar, pundits overlook her many accomplishments to focus on petty politics. The singular characterization of Klobuchar as ‘demanding,’ ‘unreasonable,’ and a ‘bitch’ paints the picture of a one-dimensional candidate and is blatantly sexist. The electorate will be introduced to Klobuchar as the awful boss. Her work-ethic, accomplishments, and ambition is overlooked because the male dominated media refuse to acknowledge female candidates as complex, three-dimensional beings.
The media’s treatment of Senator Klobuchar is a microcosm amongst a larger problem of how the media portrays ambitious women. As the 2020 election progresses it will be fascinating to see how the narrative develops if a woman becomes the nominee and President.
Earlier this month, Brett Kavanaugh was appointed to the Supreme Court. His confirmation followed an intense, highly-publicized emotional rollercoaster that has made him one of the most controversial figures talked about right now. It is no doubt that his appointment was received with immense outrage especially from the left side of the political spectrum. Besides the fact that he is incredibly conservative on a variety of controversial topics, he was confirmed following multiple allegations of sexual assault. The most notable and highly publicized allegations came from a women by the name of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. She was even asked to come and testify against him in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, in a hearing that was broadcast to the entire world.
What most stood out to me about Dr. Ford and her allegations was that the incident she came forward about occurred in high school, when she and Kavanaugh were both 17, an age many people at this school currently are. I was immediately intrigued. The alleged sexual assault happened at a high school party in 1983. Hearing about these allegations I immediately began to reflect on me and my friends experiences being females in high school currently. I thought about the generation that Brett Kavanaugh grew up in and I began to wonder how the party culture in high school at that time has changed and how it has remained the same in high school party culture now. With the new development of feminist movements, such as #MeToo, it seems that the predatory environment that was incredibly common in the 80’s should be diminished. However, when taking closer examination into the high school party scene of today it is not difficult to find underlying themes that are uncannily similar to those described by Dr. Ford.
I began trying to learn more about the unspoken sexual assault atmosphere that surrounded the high school parties of the 1980’s. To gain insight I decided to speak to my mother, someone who attended high school from 1985-1989, very much in the generation of Brett Kavanaugh, and confirmed that Dr. Fords story was one that was all too familiar during her time in high school. When speaking about her experience, she stated that “movies like ‘Sixteen Candles reflected what we found in high school,” referencing the scene in the popular John Hughes rom-com where a drunk girl slipping in and out of consciousness was passed around between a group of boys that was ultimately turned into a sort of hilarious sublot in the movie. She elaborated by saying “nobody really taught you anything about consent” and that “as a girl, if you were drunk it was your problem what happened to you; you could expect it be blamed on you and to not receive support from other students or the administration.”
This closely aligns with the story of Dr. Ford, a story where the perpetrator faced no consequences and support could not be expected from fellow peers, thus leading to silence from the victim as she felt unsafe and uncomfortable. The question of why Dr. Ford remained silent until this point if the assault really did impact her so much has been asked countless times by Kavanaugh supporters, as a point to undermine the reliability of Dr. Fords testament. But considering the context of the assault and the general population’s attitude at the time it is not difficult to understand why one wouldn’t come forward. As seen in many movies of the time period, including Sixteen Candles, rape by fellow peers at parties and unconsensual intercourse that involved intoxication was considered almost laughable, not something to be taken seriously or deemed as detrimental to the mental and physical health of the victim.
When asked about the most traumatizing part of the whole experience, in front of the Senate committee, Dr. Ford tearfully recalled it was the fact that Brett Kavanaugh and his friend who attacked Ford together “were laughing with each other.” She continues, “…I was underneath one of them, while the two laughed…Two friends having a really good time with one another.” This exemplifies the mindset of the perpetrators often involved in these incidents; it was something that was simply amusing and the thought of just how harmful it would be to the victim was not even something that crossed the mind. You could also not expect any action to be taken, or for people to listen and believe you. There is a large sense of shame and self-blame involved, a haunting feeling that takes years to overcome. Dr. Ford continued to recollect in her jarring testament, “…I was too afraid and ashamed to tell anyone the details…I tried to convince myself that because Brett did not rape me, I should be able to move on and just pretend that it had never happened.”
Hearing my mother recount the rapacious atmosphere of parties in the 80’s I already started to note common similarities to things I myself have witnessed during my time in high school, and decided to gain further insight by speaking to some people my age who might have experienced such incidents. I started by speaking to a close friend, one who recalls her own personal experience with unwanted sexual advances from people she considered friends at parties, and how a culture that has remained, until recently, unwaveringly silent over how to treat such unwelcomed approaches made her struggle to come to terms with that reality. She recalls, “I didn’t want to be subjected to these inexcusable grabs and ‘slips’ and neither did my friends, yet I didn’t feel secure or educated enough to do more than laugh these motions off. If we did more we were seen as over dramatic because for some reason we didn’t desire random teenage hands all over our bodies when least expected.” There are currently still stark parallels with the culture Dr. Ford and my mother described, a culture where there is not enough self-empowerment or security for women to speak up for themselves and defend themselves when subjected to uncomfortable and unwanted situations. There are even some stories shared with me during my research that described scenarios of straight up violence. Stories such as, “I was leaning against a wall at a party and he came over and pressed his entire body against mine and I was pinned there for minutes just struggling and asking him to get off while he just breathed into my face” or going in for a hug and getting undesired kissing in return that doesn’t stop after relentless pleading, the list goes on. These are only two of countless anecdotes confided in me. One common thread running through these stories is the presence of alcohol. A female who I spoke to expressed this sentiment by stating that “there is a common trend of using a substance or setting as an excuse to blatantly take advantage of girls.” Clearly that is one thing that has not changed since the 80’s Listening to these stories led me to the conclusion that unfortunately much has remained the same in the world of high school party culture since the time of Brett Kavanaugh.
The research I conducted unearthed an unsettling reality: the party culture that surrounded Brett Kavanaugh and his allegations is one that has remained for the most part unchanged in the high school scene of today, 35 years later. Coming to terms with this raises many questions. One that especially stands out is: If externally our country seems to be going through a women’s empowerment revolution, why has the treatment of women not changed? The context of the incidents of today is one that champions women coming out and publicly sharing what they have been through; one of no longer tolerating these demeaning experiences any more. It now becomes apparent that the discourse is further off from actuality than we would like to think it is. There has not yet been a translation of what #MeToo stands for to the actual real life scenarios that women are subjected to. It becomes ever clearer that is time to make a real difference; to turn words into action, so that in 35 years we will not be hearing the same stories.
The Senate, on the other hand, is a different story. Democratic incumbent senators are running for re-election in ten states which Trump won. Additionally, according to Sabato’s Crystal Ball, Democrats only have four viable opportunities for pickups from Republicans. These are in Nevada and Arizona, which are rated “toss-up,” meaning that a reliable prediction cannot be made either way, and Texas and Tennessee, which are rated “lean R.”
However, there are great opportunities around New York City to get involved in the midterms. Below are three ideal House districts chosen according to how easy they are to get to and the degree of how competitive the election is.
The 22nd district is a total toss-up with two candidates who could both use all the help they can get. It’s further from the city than the other two, so it would be better for people who have a weekend or more to help.
The incumbent, Claudia Tenney, is a former member of the New York State Assembly who was first elected to the seat in 2016 by winning 44% of the votes against a Democrat, Kim Myers, with 39% and an Independent, Martin Babinec, with 13%. She has been described as a “tea party favorite,” and has garnered the support of the Conservative Party of New York State, the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List and the Citizens United Victory Fund, among other groups. During her two-year tenure in Congress, she has co-sponsored a NRA-supported bill that would substantially eliminate National Firearms Act restrictions on obtaining gun silencers, as well as being quoted as saying after the Parkland school shootings: “It’s interesting that so many of these people that commit the mass murders end up being Democrats.” She also supported the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the Republican tax overhaul bill (TCJA).
Her opponent, Anthony Brindisi, ran unopposed in the Democratic primary and has served in the New York State Assembly since 2011, as well as having served as a member of the Utica City Board of Education before running for office. While he has the support of the Working Families Party, Independence Party, and Women’s Equality Party, he has been a centrist and moderate Democrat in the Assembly. He has an “A” rating from the NRA, supports Nancy Pelosi’s continued leadership of House Democrats, and “devotes more airtime to burnishing his bipartisan credentials than he does to criticizing President Trump.” However, it may be these qualities which make him an attractive alternative to Tenney, whose rhetoric allows no real room for bipartisanship.
The district includes the cities of Utica, Cortland and Binghamton, while also housing Binghamton University, Colgate University and Hamilton College, making the district an ideal place for youth to flex their political muscle. It stretches from part of the Finger Lakes region to the Hudson Valley, and is accessible from the city by train and bus.
The 11th district covers all of Staten Island and small parts of Southern Brooklyn, including Bay Ridge. It is extremely easy to get to via the ferry, but also slightly more tilted towards the Republican incumbent, as it’s the only congressional district in New York City to be represented by a Republican and to have its majority vote for Trump in the 2016 election. Still, it presents a viable opportunity for a Democratic pickup and is more accessible than upstate districts.
The current holder of the seat, Dan Donovan, was elected in a 2015 special election after the resignation of Michael Grimm, and has since been re-elected once. Before his election to the House, he ran unsuccessfully to be Attorney General of New York against Eric Schneiderman following Andrew Cuomo vacating the position to run for governor. He received national attention in 2014 during the Eric Garner case when as District Attorney for Richmond County, his office declined to indict the officer who put Garner in a chokehold. In Congress, he has worked with Democrats on a number of bills. However, he is close with the President, even introducing legislation to require post offices to display Trump’s portrait and publicly supporting his 2017 executive order to impose a ban on immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries. However, curiously, he voted for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act but against the Republican tax overhaul bill and American Health Care Act. He is on the House Foreign Affairs and Homeland Security committees.
Antonio Delgado, an attorney and Rhodes scholar, is challenging Faso for the seat. He won a crowded primary among six other Democratic candidates, but amassed the most votes out of the group with 22.1%. Born and raised in Schenectady, N.Y., Delgado has garnered the endorsements of the Women’s Equality Party, Citizen Action of New York, and former President Barack Obama, among others.
To get involved, contact the campaign office of the candidate you support to see what kind of work is available for the dates that work for you. If you are unable to work in these districts personally, there are always phone banking and community organizing opportunities to get out the vote. For Democrats to control the House, they need to have a net gain of 24 seats. Whether or not you would like to see this happen, there are many golden opportunities nearby to have an impact. Make no mistake about it, every single door knocked on makes a difference. This is true in any election, but is especially accurate in this one, where the races which decide control of Congress will be decided by the thinnest of margins.
Cynthia Nixon will not be the Governor of New York. The latest polls have Andrew Cuomo ahead by at least thirty points, a gap that all but ensures that he will clinch the Democratic nomination next Thursday. From the moment of its inception, a Nixon candidacy was a longshot. Taking on the two-term Cuomo, the golden boy of the Cuomo political machine, was a bold and naive move which was always going to be an uphill battle. Cuomo has remained modestly popular in his second term, his decision to seek a third term was not unexpected.
A simple tweet signalled the beginning of Nixon’s campaign in March of 2018, after weeks of speculation. When I first viewed Ms. Nixon’s well crafted announcement video I was overcome with excitement. I was captivated by her story, her journey, and how cool would it be if she became the Governor of New York. She promised that as governor she would invest in the MTA, push for more equal public school funding, and fight income inequality. Her platforms are bold, progressive, and energetic: what New York needs. However, I have serious doubts that if she was ever elected she could produce the results she promised.
Cynthia Nixon should not be disqualified because she is an actress, or a women, or a member of the LGBTQ+ community. Yet, she should not be the Governor of New York. She has no experience! She has never managed a $168 billion dollar budget, or overseen thousands of state workers. If elected, Ms. Nixon has expressed the desire to double the budget to $345 billion and create a single payer-health care plan that would cost hundreds of billions of dollars. When asked how she would pay for these expensive endeavors Nixon said “pass it and then figure out how to fund it.” I recently spent two months interning for Senator Schumer and in my short time there I quickly learned that any potential legislation must have the proper funding to back it up before it is even brought to a vote, or else it will be dead in the water. Beyond that, no legislative body would pass such controversial legislation when only a percentage of the details have been hammered out.
Moreover, Nixon’s plan to regulate global warming would require $25 billion in funding. To pay she proposes a tax on “polluters” that would raise $7 billion annually. This would still leave a deficit of $18 billion needed to fund her project. Even Nixon’s plans to better fund public schools and fix the MTA are filled with holes that spread tax revenue thinly across multiple projects, and would ultimately drive New York State into deep debt.
Furthermore, Nixon’s close ties to New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio and his aides also prove a point of weakness in her campaign. Frankly, I see her actions as incredibly hypocritical, cozying up to a politician who takes millions from big donors and has also failed to reform the MTA. De Blasio had a mediocre first term marred by corruption, and will continue to be the mediocre mayor with no political future in his second term. He has failed to institute programs to close the wealth gap, failed to effectively fight school segregation, and has done little about the status of the subways. Nixon surrounds herself with aides who have steered the benign De Blasio administration, so why should we expect a potential Nixon administration to be any different then his?
To be clear, I agree with most of the issues that Nixon is discussing and appreciate the spotlight she has shone on numerous social and fiscal topics. However we need a governor who can provide us with solutions, not rhetoric.
Governor Cuomo, on the other hand, is a career politician who is running to be re-elected, not to help New Yorkers. He is positioning himself to make a bid for the White House in 2020, he is not interested in reforming the MTA, or help provide equal funding for public schools. I would like to believe that I am not naive, I know that the subways can not be fixed with the snap of a finger. I would like to believe that in one of the wealthiest states with some of the most brilliant minds the Governor could have at least formulated a plan for the MTA in the last eight years.
We need new blood in Albany; new and progressive thinking. I would love to see Congressman Hakeem Jeffries or Speaker Corey Johnson take leadership roles in our state. Nixon and Cuomo are not the candidates which New Yorker’s deserve and I hope that young people, especially Beacon students, will stand up and fight for experienced and progressive leadership to come forward.
Many Beacon students do not know much about Barbara Bush’s life. Her passing, though tragic, provides a new opportunity to recognize the impact she made on this country during her life.
First Lady Barbara Bush was laid to rest on Saturday, April 21st, four days after she died from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. Mrs. Bush lived a long and joyous life; she will be remembered for her wit, charity, and family loyalty.
Barbara Bush–the wife of the 41st President and the mother of the 43rd– was born in 1925 to a wealthy New York publisher. She met George H. W. Bush at a Christmas party in 1941, and the two married in 1945. In 1966, George H. W. Bush was elected to Congress and the Bushes moved to Washington. As the wife of a Congressman, Barbara Bush was active in charity work and Republican women’s groups. After losing his 1970 bid for Senate, President Richard Nixon appointed George H. W. Bush as US ambassador of the UN. Once again, Mrs. Bush moved her family, this time to New York. Over the course of her life, she would move more than 29 times. When President Nixon asked George H. W. Bush to become Chairman of the RNC, Mrs. Bush advised against it, citing the political turmoil of the Watergate Scandal. Critics of the former First Lady have called her passive and distant. Yet she always had her husband’s ear. Despite Mrs. Bush’s advice, George H. W. Bush accepted Nixon’s offer and went on to lead the RNC until being appointed as Head of the US Liaison Office in the People’s Republic of China.
Three years later, George H. W. Bush was appointed CIA Director, and the Bushes returned to Washington DC. As CIA director, George H. W. Bush was prohibited from disclosing sensitive information to his wife. Mrs. Bush turned to presenting about her time in China and her volunteer work at hospices. Fortunately, her love of people and desire to “give back” gave her a clear purpose in a heated political climate. The experience also sensitized her to the prevalence of mental health issues across the nation.
In 1980, Mrs. Bush’s husband made a bid for the White House. As his biggest supporter, Mrs. Bush advocated for her husband’s policies, yet she also made waves in the GOP primary with her pro-choice stance and her support of the Equal Rights Amendment. Although she loved and supported her husband, Mrs. Bush wasn’t afraid to show her individuality and hold fast to her own beliefs. Mr. Bush lost the primary but was selected as Ronald Reagan’s running mate. This Republican ticket went on to win the General Election, making Mrs. Bush the Second Lady.
Barbara served as Second Lady for eight years. During her time as the Vice President’s wife, she championed two big causes: literacy and homelessness. The Bushes’ son Neil had been diagnosed with dyslexia as a child and as a result, Mrs. Bush spent a lot of time researching literacy, coming to believe that homelessness and literacy rates were directly related. From 1981 onward, Mrs. Bush traveled the country spreading awareness about illiteracy. In 1984, Mrs. Bush wrote a book, entitled “C. Fred’s Story” and donated all proceeds to literacy charities. Over the course of her life, she raised over one billion dollars for this cause. She also fundraised heavily for cancer research after her oldest daughter, Robin, died of leukemia in 1953.
Mrs. Bush became the First Lady in 1989 and continued to champion her signature cause of literacy. As First Lady, Mrs. Bush was known for her modesty, asking to use public transportation and commercial flights–to the horror of the Secret Service. During the 1992 presidential campaign, Mrs. Bush famously stated the government had no right to legislate against gay rights and abortion: “I hate abortions, but I could not make that choice for someone else.” She was politically radical for her time, even amongst Democrats.
While Mrs. Bush was incredibly popular, she still suffered a few public scandals. In 1984, she called Democratic Vice Presidential Candidate Geraldine Ferraro “something that rhymes with rich.” Famously, in 1990, Mrs. Bush was scheduled to give the commencement speech at Wellesley University, but the student body protested in opposition, saying that she was not “feminist enough.” Bush went to Wellesley and gave a speech that brought the graduates to their feet and went down as one of top 100 speeches in U.S history. To the all-female student body, she mused, “Who knows? Somewhere out in this audience may even be someone who will one day follow in my footsteps, and preside over the White House as the President’s spouse.” Then, addressing the larger audience, she said with a smile: “I wish him well!”
After George H. W. Bush lost the 1992 Presidential Election, Mrs. Bush continued to fight for literacy, eventually passing her passion on to her daughter-in-law, First Lady Laura Bush. Over the last 25 years of her life Mrs. Bush spent her time in the company of her husband, five children, 17 grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren. Known by her family as the “enforcer,” Mrs. Bush never lost her take-charge attitude. She watched her sons become the Governors of Florida and Texas, and eventually, her oldest son become President. On Tuesday, April 17th, she died peacefully, holding the hand of the husband she had loved for over 75 years.
On Friday, April 20th, on the 19th anniversary of the deadly shooting at Columbine high school in Colorado, thousands of students from all over the city walked out of class to gather in Washington Square Park. The walkout was organized in protest of the recent mass-shootings, and inspired by the uproar of teenage voices speaking out against gun violence. Students from all city high schools, and some middle schools, were encouraged to participate and stand-up against the systemic issue of gun violence. Public, private, and charter schools alike gathered to hear speeches made by Columbine shooting survivors, lawmakers, and student activists from NYC schools.
Overall, Beacon’s administration and staff seemed supportive of the walkout, as they saw us out of the building and onto the street. Teachers were smiling as kids bore signs and sported orange clothing. Orange, partly due to the Wear Orange movement, started by a teen activist to commemorate her friend who passed away at the hands of gun violence, has become the color of gun violence awareness. Participants have worn orange ribbons in support throughout various marches and demonstrations.
Beacon students left the building after B-Band around 11:00am for the A, C, and E trains at Port Authority. There was a large group of students walking along 43rd and 44th street, but smaller groups formed along the way and within the subway cars. Unlike the March 14th walkout, which was centered around Beacon and took place outside the school, the walkout last Friday was a more independent event. Students were responsible for their own transportation and directions to the Park and once inside, Beacon students did not necessarily join together as a conglomerate.
Students from ICE, LaGuardia, St. Ann’s, Packer, Brooklyn Tech, Murrow, and countless other high schools gathered to express their feelings on the issue of gun violence. As many as 6,000 participated in Washington Square Park. People gathered around the famous fountain, and crowds congregated around the park’s arch, where the podium was set-up. Speeches and demonstrations continued from 12pm-3pm. Around 1pm, there was a political demonstration within the fountain at Washington Square Park, in which students held up pieces of paper with a name of a victim of gun violence. The great deal of participants emphasized the prevalent nature of this issue, especially in the school system, and the number of children that have been murdered. There was also a “die-in,” where students outline their bodies with chalk and laid on the ground, presenting the upsetting reality and frightening situations of many school shootings. Beacon junior Frankie Morris-Perez said, “It’s really encouraging to see my peers come together and show everyone who says ‘we aren’t old enough’ or ‘we shouldn’t have a say in the political agenda,’ that we are persistent and will fight until something is accomplished.”
Beacon’s own Arielle Geismar gave a moving speech about protecting our school and ensuring that instances of violence, like Columbine, does not continue to happen within our schools. She highlighted the importance of concrete policy and action, in regards to gun control, and expressed a national outrage towards this issue. Columbine survivor Amelia Fernand also spoke about her experience, 19 years prior. Initially, she spoke about her feelings and fear during the shooting and went on to describe the importance change within our gun policy. The New York Daily News reported her saying, “For my entire adult life I have felt hopeless that our government will ever do anything about the school shooting epidemic in this country… And now I actually feel like change is coming. I am so incredibly proud of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students.” Fernand’s voice illustrated the generational impact of this issue, as students noted the fundamental ways in which the 2nd amendment is being abused and circumvented.
Gun violence is an epidemic in America. On average, 33,000 people die each year and 96 people die each day at the hands of gun violence, and out of those 96, seven are children. America seems to be the only country in the world with this intrinsic issue. Other countries, such as Canada record as little as 172 deaths each year, with japan reporting only 7 in 2017. This large difference stems from the second amendment- which gives citizens the right to bear arms. In our country, 22% of guns are obtained without a background check. Right now, over 3 million guns sales have been blocked due to background checks effectively preventing prohibited people from purchasing weapons. Furthermore, activists are pushing for rigorous background checks, a longer wait period (which currently stands at 72 hours), and included safety-training or permit registration.
Gun laws do make a difference: in 1995, Connecticut made a law requiring registration for licensing when purchasing a gun, which resulted in a drop in gun homicides by 40%. Another way gun owners have been slipping through the cracks is due to the gun show loophole, meaning people with criminal records can purchase a gun, there has been a recent push to close these cracks.
Certain policy makers have been looking to reinstate the federal assault weapons ban and agree we should prevent the selling of high capacity magazines, which are designed to kill hundreds of people in a very short amount of time. When the federal assault weapons ban was in place, the number of gun massacres fell by 43%. When the ban ended in 2004, data showed a 239% increase in massacre deaths than before the ban. The Las Vegas shooting, the Orlando Pulse shooting, and many more could have been prevented by the assault weapons ban, ensuring that these shooters couldn’t walk into to gun shops days before the massacres and purchase war weapons.
On April 20 1999, America began its streak of gun violence in schools, with the shooting in Columbine High School, leaving 13 dead and 21 injured. Columbine was possible due to the gun show loophole, and the shooters were equipped with high capacity magazines and shotguns without ever having to show identification or enter a background search. This kicked off a devastating era of mass shootings. The shaken and devastated Colorado community began to focus on the gun control debate, but their efforts only went as far as an increasing security in schools, enacting the immediate “action rapid deployment,” a policy that was geared to police officers in shooting scenarios. Now, Columbine is not even considered one of the 10 deadliest shooting in America.
Beacon sophomore Emma Pilkington stated that she was “[there] to support my peers in the fight against gun violence,” alluding to the important display of solidarity, amongst teenagers after the mass shooting in Florida at Parkland High School mid-February. Teen leaders and survivors of the Parkland shooting, such as Emma González, Cameron Kasky, and David Hogg, have been travelling the country, speaking at various demonstrations and events. Their impact extends beyond their teen audience, as national magazines and TV shows have given them a platform to express their youthful opinions, which are often ignored by mainstream media. Since the deadly shooting, there have been 40 more mass shootings and instances of gun violence in America.
Some viewed the rally as more of a social event, rather than an effort to stop gun violence. One anonymous Beacon student said that “The walkout was an excuse for people to fuck around, smoke weed, and hang out with their friends- which was extremely disrespectful.” They continued, noting the “white” nature of the demonstration, expressing the lack of representation within the speakers. Others believed that the walkout was an important movement for all teenagers, sophomore Ivan Knoepflmacher said “We are the general [public] that will affected by gun control.”Another sophomore, Ava Mascuch, echoed Knoepflmacher’s sentiments by explaining the discrepancies within gun policy: “The law that was created in the 18th century was describing guns that you had to put powder into and took a couple minutes to reload. They didn’t know about the guns we have today, so now we need to change and re-adjust those laws.”
Barring specific grievances about the management of the protest, most students agreed that the rally served as a tangible step toward policy change. Notwithstanding the informal organization or design, the demonstration showcased the ability of student leaders to transcend school divisions and coalesce around a common political cause. Perhaps of greatest import, however, is the resolve that this protest has affixed to the youth-led anti-gun movement: more than two months after the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, student protests have yet to be dampened by right-wing detractors, and the momentum will continue until, as student advocates claim, gun policy displays discernible revision.
With handmade signs and empowering chants, people across the nation took to the streets on March 24th, 2018 to participate in the “March For Our Lives.” The march took place in Washington DC and sister marches were held in numerous cities including New York City, Los Angeles, and Nashville. The march was organized by the survivors of the Parkland school shooting that took place last February. Teenage survivors and gun reform activists David Hogg, Emma Gonźalez, Cameron Kasky, Alex Wind, and Jaclyn Corin were assisted by Everytown for Gun Safety in organizing the event. Demonstrators ranged from infants to grandmothers, with people uniting across generations to call for legislative change.
Over the last two months, the fight for gun regulation has only intensified. After the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas (MSD) High School, the media has increased coverage of gun-related stories, while teen activists have used their platform to further discussion of gun violence and common sense gun reform. The horrible tragedy that occurred at MSD, in which 17 students and faculty were killed by shooter Nikolas Cruz and his AR-15 rifle, has sparked a nationwide “Never Again” movement.
In NYC, the march began at 10am and the route went from 72nd Street and Amsterdam Avenue and to 45th Street and 6th Avenue. An estimated 200,000 people marched along Central Park West that Saturday morning. One marcher and Beacon senior Meghan Callahan found the march “incredibly powerful,” and “was especially impressed with our nation’s readiness to call out NRA-supporting politicians and anyone who has turned a blind eye to gun violence.” Along the march route were massive speakers broadcasting the words of NYC organizers and activists, as well as speeches taking place in DC and across the nation. At 62nd Street, there was a podium and stage set up for demonstrators to watch the speakers live.
NYC speakers included Parkland shooting survivor Sam Hendler, the Wear Orange Movement founder Nza-Ari Khepra, and Sandy Hook survivors. The speakers weighed in on issues such as gun violence in black and Latino communities, the #BlackLivesMatter movement, the Sandy Hook shooting, and the lobbying power of the NRA. Across marches, celebrities such as Amy Schumer, Yara Shahidi, and Connie Britton spoke on the issue of gun violence, while there were musical performances by Charlie Puth, Miley Cyrus, and Demi Lovato. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s granddaughter, Yolanda Renee King, joined the Parkland survivors onstage in DC as she shared her “dream of a gun-free world.” Two groundbreaking movements, the Civil Rights movement and the anti-gun violence movement, intersected as the nine-year old inspired students and adults alike. 11-year-old speaker Naomi Walder from Virginia stated that she was at the march “to acknowledge and represent the African-American girls who’s stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper.”
Also in DC, survivor Emma Gonźalez called for effective gun reform policies and criticized policymakers who refuse to take action. She also closed her speech with powerful minutes of silence on stage, representing the time span of the active shooting in MSD. The march in Washington was also politically charged, with the appearances of many politicians and the partisan split on the issue more apparent in the immediate vicinity of Capitol Hill.
The bravery and eloquence demonstrated by Emma and the rest the Parkland shooting survivors has inspired many students to speak up in their own communities and fight for change. Beacon held its own walkout on March 14th to commemorate the victims of the Parkland shooting and to stand in solidarity with the anti-gun violence movement.
Protest signs were also crucial to the real and online presence of the event. Some popular sign phrases and graphics included a target accompanied by the words “Am I Next?” and bold lettering of the word “Enough.” Kids also sported some of their own signs, highlighting their unnecessary but telling fear of gun violence. Another popular sign read “My Life>>Your Guns,” referencing the donations many GOP politicians accept from the NRA.
The march in NYC also focused on voter registration. Organizers of the march emphasized voting for politicians who support gun reform. In an effort to increase youth voting, volunteers facilitated voter registration with passers-by. NBC New York reported that as many as 4,800 were registered to vote as of Sunday night. There were also over 1,000 volunteers seeking to register people to vote in the 2018 election. This included Beacon students, many of whom facilitated voter registration and petitioned for the Young Voter Act with the Youth Progressive Policy Group and Brooklyn Voters Alliance.
The March for Our Lives showed the power of youth to advocate change. As a united front, demonstrators were able “get out the vote,” share stories of survival and heartbreak, and fight for their lives. The movement will continue with the National School Walkout on April 20th, the anniversary of the Columbine shooting massacre. For NYC students, NYC Says Enough will hold a rally in Washington Square Park at 12pm to demand legislative action on gun control from our state and federal policymakers.
The #Enough National School Walkout on March 14th was an important display of solidarity with the student survivors of the recent shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Both the March for Our Lives on Saturday, March 14th and the National School Walkout on Friday, April 20th present more opportunities to stand with the Parkland students and with advocates for common sense gun reform across the nation.
However, as Beacon students who care about the wellbeing of our country, we can do more than participate in marches and walkouts. We can demand action from our policymakers by supporting specific legislative change and broaden the conversation from school safety to mental health awareness and gun violence in marginalized communities.
That’s why we’ve started the Beacon Gun Reform Action Series, which will consist of weekly meetings every Wednesday during D and E Bands in Room 310 open to all Beacon students. Each meeting will be facilitated by a different student and will focus on a different aspect of gun reform, around which there will be a brief discussion followed by groups pursuing targeted actions on the issue. Action stations can involve phone banking, letter-writing, sign-making, and more. Reports of each meeting will be provided here on “The Beacon Beat” so that all students can access the information and, if they so choose, independently follow up on the action items taken.
All students are welcome to facilitate a Gun Reform Action Meeting and can sign up to do so here.
Beacon Gun Reform Action Meeting #2
Focus: Changing the Narrative of Gun Violence in Marginalized Communities & Building an Intersectional Gun Reform Movement
Thursday, April 11th
E Band, Room 310
In the April 11th meeting led by senior Divine Ndombo, Beacon students sought to expand the conversation on gun reform to the issues facing marginalized communities and communities of color in the United States. They began by trying to define intersectionality and relating their experiences with intersectional social justice activism, then discussing how the national student movement for gun reform has been criticized for a lack of intersectionality.
Below, you can find the main takeaways of the students’ conversation…
Key Points of Discussion on Intersectionality
Intersectionality is a term coined by American civil rights advocate Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw to describe overlapping or intersecting social identities and related systems of oppression, domination, or discrimination.
Many social justice movements have been criticized for their lack of intersectionality. Other movements, such as Black Lives Matter, have worked to prioritize intersectionality.
Different aspects of our experiences with activism at Beacon show a lack of intersectionality, especially when it comes to relations between social justice clubs.
Make a 30-second video explaining an aspect of gun violence that most affects you or is important to you and post it on social media. Encourage others to do the same. Post with #NeverAgain and #Enough. Tag lawmakers if you want.
Issues & Action Items to Address at Future Meetings
Establish legislative policy goals
Explore the role of guns in American suicides
Discuss relation of voter registration to the gun reform movement
Find means of contacting lawmakers
Coordinate between Beacon social justice clubs
Determine ways to inform student body (consider teach-ins)
Protest NRA events and platforms
Beacon Gun Reform Action Meeting #1
Focus: Organizing Beacon Students for the 3/24 March for Our Lives
Thursday, March 22nd
E Band, Room 310
In the March 22nd meeting, Beacon students planned our school’s participation in Saturday’s March for Our Lives (10 AM – 5 PM). We will be meeting at 72nd Street and Amsterdam Avenue at 9:30 AM to march together. If you would like to help register voters with the Youth Progressive Policy Group and the Brooklyn Voter Alliances, materials will be provided to you on-site following a brief voter registration demo (more details here).
In today’s Action Stations, Beaconites created three different resources for students who plan to participate in the March for Our Lives or who are otherwise involved in the fight for gun reform.
Action Station #1: Slogan List
Attending the march, but stumped on what to put on your sign? Here are some suggestions…
Orange octagonal signs that read “Stop Gun Violence”
Orange triangle signs that read “NRA Must Yield”
NYC-specific meme references
Arm muscle drawings with the slogan “These are the only guns we allow in schools”
“Guns no more! Hear us roar!”
“AR-15? We’re just teens”
Hourglass with “Your time’s up in 2018” for legislators against gun reform
Action Station #2: Educational Resource Compilation
Last week, President Trump and other high-profile GOP surrogates traveled to the heart of “Trump Country” to campaign for Republican nominee Rick Saccone to be the next Representative from Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district. Their mission seemed foolproof: the 96% white working-class district which had voted for Trump by more than 20% in 2016 should have been an easy win. Yet in a surprising twist of fate, Democrat Conor Lamb won the Congressional race by a razor-thin margin of just 641 votes. This blue victory not only signified a rejection of President Trump’s ideology but also provided insight into how Democrats should run their campaigns in 2018 and 2020.
When President Trump swept into Pennsylvania to campaign, he launched into his usual character attacks, branding former Marine and attorney Conor Lamb “Lamb the Sham.” Fortunately, Representative-Elect Lamb refused to play the President’s game. Lamb stuck to the issues that mattered to the voters and was able to flip what many had called an unflippable district from red to blue. This might leave one wondering, has Conor Lamb perfected the model for a winning Democratic campaign?
Lamb’s platform centered around opposing Republican policies rather than Donald Trump as an individual. The policy-driven campaign bypassed personal attacks from the right and ultimately led to Lamb’s victory. If Democrats truly want to take back the House in 2018, then Lamb’s is the best strategy. Instead of personally attacking the President, the left must stick to their policies of inclusion, equality, and reform. This suggestion goes for Democrats in Congress who are not up for re-election as well. Of course, President Trump should be held accountable for his vile statements and actions, but Democratic politicians should not name-call — it only adds fuel to the fire. All it takes is one sound bite on fox of a liberal politician calling Trump an idiot to convince his base that the left is on a witch hunt. Democrats should at least try and stay above the fray, sticking to policy.
In the week since Lamb won, Republican pundits have noted that Lamb was a rather conservative candidate. While the pro-gun, pro-tariff, and anti-abortion Lamb is moderate, the fact that Trump voters pulled the lever for a Democrat over a Trump-approved candidate speaks volumes. Rick Saccone perfectly reflected Donald Trump’s philosophies, and any vote for a Democrat (no matter how conservative) against Saccone was a clear rejection of Trumpism. Saccone’s defeat would suggest that Trump has slowly begun to alienate a fraction of his base.
Trump once claimed that “he could shoot someone on 5th avenue and not lose a single vote.” After Trump’s base stuck by him through the release of the infamous Access Hollywood audio tape — in which Trump described how he would “grab [women] by the pussy”— last October, this claim seemed jarringly true. Yet, a little more than a year into his presidency, it seems that Trump’s tweets and elitist policies have begun to ostracize the handful of swing voters in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin who handed him this presidency. Let’s just hope the Democrats learn enough from Conor Lamb to take advantage of the moment.
On November 8, 2016, I stood in Rockefeller Center, wearing an anti-Trump shirt, watching the vote counts come in. I knew he was not going to win. Yet it happened. I was hardly alone in this reality check, as millions of Americans were also seeing what they once thought was impossible unfolding before their eyes. However, over a year later, I hear from classmates and commentators that there is “no way” that Donald Trump will be re-elected as President of the United States. The conviction that Trump’s re-election in 2020 is impossible is as misguided as it was to assume a Clinton victory in 2016.
The main argument for Trump losing his re-election bid is his dismal national approval rating, currently at 43% according to a March 17 NBC/WSJ poll. Nevertheless, in reality, he is holding onto support from his base, particularly in the battleground states in which he edged Clinton out. This was extensively covered by CBS and the AP in Elliott County, Kentucky, a.k.a. “coal country.” As counterintuitive as it may appear, Trump recognizes that winning the total vote is unnecessary as long as his base returns to the polls in equal or higher numbers. Barring extreme circumstances, he still has an energized base and can count on a fractured Democratic Party to provide any leeway he might need.
We must also relinquish the notion that “majority rules.” In the polls before the election, Clinton had a 2-4 point nationwide lead, and indeed ended up beating Trump by 2.2% of the total electorate. However, only the electoral college matters, and unless Democrats can offer a better alternative in states like Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin, Trump is poised to win them again.
To argue that any new negative developments in the White House would greatly impact the next election would be to disregard the history of Trump’s controversies. While it is plausible that Trump could be prosecuted following the Russia investigation and possibly even face impeachment proceedings, this is currently unlikely. He seems to be repeatedly able to escape from controversies unscathed, and has also consistently manipulated American news media. He has its right wing vigorously defending him to a large part of the population while criticizing the actions of Democrats. On the other side, he has the media’s left wing defending itself against “fake news” claims.
Additionally, Trump uses Twitter to fire off distractions while simultaneously accomplishing measures which are far more consequential. Networks including CNN, NBC and MSNBC have been quick to report on outrageous statements which seem to actually outrage none except their own viewer base. The biggest misconception about Trump voters is that they will be swayed to vote for Democrats because of Trump shortcomings, because most either tolerate his outbursts or actively embrace them as what they want to see in a President. The common enemy is the “Establishment,” and it seems that the Democratic Party, stuck in a tug of war between a young far-left base and namesake politicians, is expected to place another establishment figure on the ballot who cannot attract support from a wider base. As seen in the Pennsylvania special election on March 13th, it took a pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, anti-Pelosi, pro-union Marine Veteran Democrat to stave off a challenger in Trump’s mold in a district that he won by 20 points against Clinton in 2016. Would a resurgent left-wing base be willing to embrace more candidates like Conor Lamb if it means loosening a grip on progressive causes? That prospect seems unlikely.
Those who voted for Trump last time have demonstrated that they could ignore evidence of racism, sexism and xenophobia if he could only “make America great again”–or just “great again” for them. Progress in social equality simply may not be a priority for those living from paycheck to paycheck, as they are concerned with the influx of immigration, American jobs and the growth of the economy. Thus far, Trump has checked all of these boxes. He has curtailed immigration, and deportations have steadily risen as ICE has been allotted more agency under his Justice Department. While it may be misleading for him to claim all the credit, jobs are still being added to the economy, albeit at a slower rate than his predecessor. The economy, while it had a short crash, is currently thriving off of a small private sector and the GOP tax bill conveniently cut taxes for just enough time before the next presidential election cycle–putting more cash into Americans’ pockets at least temporarily. Donald Trump knew these ploys would please his base and it appears to be working.
For the rest of the world, Trump’s Presidency has made the U.S. into a laughing stock and fueled diplomatic disasters. Since U.S. international standing is rapidly deteriorating, it is imperative that we take action to prevent Donald Trump from being re-elected in 2020. But to accomplish this, we must not forget the populist right-leaning base which we must reach out to and prove that there is a better way for our nation. Prematurely predicting a Donald Trump loss in 2020 will be even more devastating if Trump claims victory again because of liberals’ wishful thinking and inaction.
Since the tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14th, a group of student survivors has launched a national movement to pressure lawmakers to pass comprehensive gun control legislation. The movement, #NeverAgain, has resonated with students and their families across the country. In a CNN town hall, some of the Parkland students, families, and teachers were given a nationally televised stage to speak to their experiences, where they used Florida politicians — namely, Marco Rubio — as punching bags. They have skillfully pointed out how many legislators are at the mercy of the NRA when it comes to gun control, and their powerful statements are undoubtedly impacting the ongoing debate.
The most defining feature of the Parkland movement is the age of its leaders. Most high school students don’t meet the voting age of 18. As schools are unfortunately a recurring target for mass shooters, this means that the citizens who are in some ways most affected by gun legislation can be seen as the most powerless to change it.
Changing the voting age has been deliberated more at state and local levels more than it has been on a federal one. While lowering the voting age could potentially increase voter turnout, there are people who argue that 16 and 17 year olds are not mature enough to take on civic responsibilities. However, when it comes to “cold cognition,” — which is referred to as “judgment in situations that permit measured decision-making and consultation with others” — that part of the brain is just as developed as that of adults by the age of 16. Additionally, proponents of lowering the voting age argue that it is unfair that young people are expected to follow the law but have no say in who is elected to their legislatures.
In countries with a lower voting age, younger voters consistently have higher turnout rates. This disproves the myth that young voters are unreliable. Voters aged 16 to 17 had a higher turnout rate than other voters under age 30 in Norway’s 2011 elections, other voters under 35 in Scotland’s 2014 referendum election, and 18 to 20-year-olds in Austria’s elections in 2011 and 2014. This would also make youth more likely to vote throughout their lives than if voting rights were introduced to them at 18, as they are busy completing their education or entering the workforce.
By and large, the same arguments which can be used to disenfranchise the idea of 16 and 17-year-old voters have been used throughout history to limit voting rights for minorities, women, and the poor. These arguments are along the lines of calling people “inexperienced,” “naive,” and “uneducated.” Yet these terms have nothing to do with the age of an individual; these generalizations could just as easily be applied to entire demographics of the electorate, and would still sound as unfounded and preposterous.
While lowering the voting age nationally may seem like a daunting prospect, there are many prominent campaigns across the United States focused on involving youth in elections and bills in legislative chambers which propose lowering the voting age. One of these is the Youth Progressive Policy Group working to pass the Young Voter Act, which would lower the statewide voting age to 17 in New York (yppg.org.) Until then, youth need to make their mark in politics through activism, a mentality that is especially prevalent here at Beacon, where students are helping to organize national walkouts for gun control on March 14th and April 20th. As we have seen in Florida, student activists are qualified to lead a nationwide movement – they’re qualified to participate in our democracy.
On Tuesday, January 30th, President Trump delivered his first State of the Union address.
The address, which ran about one hour and twenty minutes long, touched on several major policy issues of the Trump Administration. Among those issues were American manufacturing jobs, immigration reform, the opioid crisis, terrorism, and relations with North Korea. Trump also invited several guests to watch his speech, including a man who escaped North Korea, and frequently referenced their stories. Throughout the night, Trump paused periodically to accommodate applause–largely from his Republican colleagues. Many Democrats sat in silence, creating a clear partisan split in the room.
On the success of the address…
“Trump pulled his usual shenanigans, saying half-meaningful statements that were just enough to rally and appease his Republican counterparts but whoever wrote his speech knew the nation was watching and he couldn’t use his usual vulgar language. The Republicans seemed pleased, but I couldn’t help but notice all the times the Democrats stood their ground and didn’t applause or stand up. There is a lot of modern-day frill attached to the State of the Union in terms of the standing as well as the tie choices that I feel sometimes the politics get lost in the media. I think Trump would consider it a success because it was mediocre. It didn’t really do anything to update us…Trump’s, and I fear now America’s, standards are lowering. So it was a successful speech because it was that perfect lukewarm temperature most politicians like. Just enough to keep going.” – Arielle Gesimar, 11th grade
On the media portrayal of the address…
“Of course, the facts weren’t all true, and I expect the media to cause an uproar over that. But there wasn’t anything horrifying or scandalous for the public to be genuinely interested [in]. So I think the State of the Union will pass without incident.” – Anonymous Student
On personal reactions to the address…
“I grew up in a really interesting household, and as someone deeply in love with politics, I think about politics and people a lot. I’m [a] Democrat, but I have one parent who voted for Trump and another who voted for Clinton. On one hand, it’s interesting to have a more human side to the Trump voter [base]. I absolutely hate Trump and what he stands for, but I do love and care about my parents, and it’s been very difficult and interesting to [try to] separate the politics from the person…[But] I don’t think we can separate the politics from the person. Politics is deeply personal, and it always will be. We need to learn how to struggle through it. It won’t be fun. It won’t be easy. But it will be worth it.” – Arielle Gesimar, 11th grade
We often speak as if Trump could destroy the world in one tweet. Nicknaming dictator Kim Jong Un “rocket man” and threatening to “totally destroy North Korea” may give us reason for believing so. But behind this pompous and inflammatory rhetoric is a much more insidious threat: Trump’s deconstruction of the U.S.’s commitment to environmental protection. His nationalistic and anti-scientific agenda is undermining the global fight against climate change, making individual action to protect the planet even more imperative.
Now, under the Trump Administration, the U.S. has abandoned the long-stated goal of environmental conservation. First came the appointment of Scott Pruitt, former Attorney General of Oklahoma, as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—which he was infamous for repeatedly suing. Under his reign of anti-environmental terror, civil servants have fled their posts in record numbers; last December, the New York Times and ProPublica reported the departure of over 700 employees from the EPA as the Trump Administration pursued its goal of shrinking the agency by 20%, which requires eliminating 3,200 positions. Among those leaving are scientists, environmental protection specialists, department directors, attorneys, and program managers responsible for protecting communities’ water and air from damaging corporate interests, and ensuring a decent quality of life for all Americans.
The EPA’s brain drain, which poses a palpable threat to the agency’s ability to protect the environment and human health, sends a clear message: there is no room for environmentalism in Trump-era Washington. What is there is room for, however, is big business. Along with corporate deregulation, Trump has enabled the shrinking of national monuments and the expansion of offshore oil and gas drilling. He also supported the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and EPA Administrator Pruitt’s proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan. Moreover, the Trump Administration has sought to limit public access to information on climate change by removing references to the issue from government websites.
Last summer, President Trump announced his intent to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. Calling the accords “very unfair” and citing his “love” for the American worker, Trump presented Paris as a “bad deal.” His simple narrative diminished the accords’ significance as a major international resolution on environmental protection. Trump also failed to note that the U.S. is still technically part of the agreement, having committed to Paris until fall of 2020.
Yet Trump’s declaration of withdrawal, albeit mostly rhetorical, is still a major detriment to the U.S. on the world stage. Trump’s lack of an invitation to the One Planet Summit hosted by French President Macron last winter was one example of U.S. exclusion from important environmental talks. China, the world’s greatest polluter, has been quick to fill the void in international order and position itself as the new leader of the global campaign to go green.
Beyond embarrassing the U.S., Trump’s anti-environmental policy agenda hampers international efforts to combat climate change. The U.S. continues to be a top emitter of greenhouse gases; it has a unique responsibility to reduce its ecological footprint. Under Trump, the U.S. has not only neglected this responsibility but enabled new environmental destruction.
Climate change is a pervasive global threat. We can’t turn back time and undo all of the pollution the earth has suffered at human hands or revert to Stone Age-style living, and unfortunately, we can’t swap out our presidential administration in the blink of an eye either. Yet especially now, with a negligent executive branch, Americans have a pressing responsibility to confront our outsized contribution to climate change. Many of us rely on energy-consuming technology and the luxury of being able to pick something up at the store whenever we feel the need. These practices, ingrained in our daily lives, consistently damage the environment. To pick up the onus of sustainable living, we must reevaluate them…
Think sustainably. It’s hard to live a “zero waste” lifestyle, but we can try our hardest to minimize waste. Small measures like turning off the lights when you don’t need them and taking shorter showers add up, but there are larger steps we can take. Where and what you buy makes a difference, particularly when it comes to food and clothing. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, global livestock farming accounts for 14.5% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing your meat consumption and transitioning into a plant-based diet, especially if done on a household level, makes a palpable difference, as does buying clothing from second-hand stores—thrifting is a trend now, anyways! You can also reduce your reliance on disposables by ditching plastic bottles and bags for reusable and biodegradable ones.
2. Inform yourself. There is a ready supply of articles, books, and documentaries on the facts of climate change and the campaign for climate justice. Helpful reads include Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals, while documentaries include An Inconvenient Truth, Bag It, and Tapped. These resources can deepen your understanding of natural and man-made climate change, as well as improve your ability to communicate the issue to your families and friends.
3. Speak up, speak out for Planet Earth. Attend a People’s Climate March or another environmental rally. Hold your local and state legislators accountable for implementing environmentally responsible policies. Support eco-friendly companies. Share your knowledge in every way that you can.
Presidential power may be transient, but the harms done to the planet by government officials who prioritize corporate profits over sustainability are not. The Trump Administration is neglecting the U.S.’s duty to combat climate change in favor of an anti-environmental, pro-big business agenda that ultimately, the American taxpayer will foot the bill for as the costs of living on a polluted planet grow. Now is the time to take action independent of the federal legislature and consider our own role in shaping a greener future. The health of our planet is in our hands.
“It’s exhilarating to be here. I’m sure the march is just as riveting in DC but it feels particularly meaningful to see and contribute to this sense of solidarity and love in my own city. The march makes you forget about finals and homework and all of the busywork we push through to be able to go out and celebrate our communities, our values, and our country (or what we believe our country can be). A lot of the chants I heard and signs I saw were centered around federal politics and, of course, a president whose behavior towards women has been abominable and even criminal. It’s reassuring to see how many people—of all races, genders, sexual orientations, and religions—will stand together not only to condemn a culture that denies women their due respect and opportunity but to advocate for a more inclusive and equitable society moving forward. These are the voices that matter. Your voice matters. I hope Beacon students and all other participants in the 2018 Women’s March have as momentous an experience as I did.” -Ilana Cohen, Editor-in-Chief
“Having gone to the Women’s March last year in Washington, being a part of the same movement in my own city was an amazing experience. Much has changed in the year since Donald Trump was inaugurated, but many of the same civil rights and women’s rights issues persist. It’s always funny to see inventive signs and Trump impersonators, but I only had time to spend around 2 hours in the march, and I spent much of that time in Columbus Circle, specifically near a small group of Trump supporters in the Southwest corner of Central Park. There were about 10 of them–one was just carrying a sign that read ‘Vets before Illegals,’ one had a ‘Women for Trump’ sign, and one was carrying a strongly anti-Islamic sign and was yelling about the ‘evil’ of Sharia law. Personally, I find more value in discussion with those on the other end of the political spectrum than with those whose beliefs align with my own. I was considering talking to this woman to ask why she believed in these things, but then a Muslim family walked by and she aggressively taunted them and I decided against it. I did, however, absorb the content of the arguments they had with Trump protesters, which were fierce, and by no means does the blame lie on only one side for the intensity of the taunts.
Eventually, I started a discussion with a self-described conservative centrist, named Warren, who ‘mostly’ supports Trump. He was wearing no political gear of any kind and said that he too was just there to ‘absorb’ the atmosphere, not attack it, as he said he believes in women’s rights. He defended the Republican tax bill and believed that there should be some restrictions on immigration. While we had a good number of disagreements, and he couldn’t defend all of Trump’s actions (namely his compulsive tweeting), I found that he was a decent person. He has a son who is in journalism school and he asked a lot about my own goals and wished me success. While these kinds of gatherings can seem partisan at times, it is up to each individual to reach out, because polarization will only work to deepen the divide in this country and continue to hamper progress.”
-Adrian Flynn, Website Design & Publishing Director
“It was an indescribable feeling of unity to be part of the march, chanting until I couldn’t hear my own voice.”
– Rowana Miller, Senior
What a Beautiful day to advocate for women’s rights…
Yesterday Doug Jones was sworn in as the junior Senator from Alabama, the first Democrat to hold an Alabama Senate seat since 1997. His election rocked the national political landscape, creating a showdown between centrist and far-right values in a state which Donald Trump won in 2016 with 62.1%. Of course, many factors played a role in the victory of Doug Jones and the defeat of GOP nominee, former Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court Roy Moore. In particular, unusually high Democratic turnout, a divided Republican party that resulted in a good amount of write-in votes, and the allegations that hurt Moore decided the outcome of the Special Election.
Setting the Stage
The seat Jones now holds was vacated by Jeff Sessions, who was confirmed as Attorney General on February 8. The next day, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley appointed Attorney General of Alabama Luther Strange to hold the seat until the special election. During his short-lived tenure in the Senate he was among twenty-two senators to sign a letter urging the President to pull the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement. He also sponsored bills that held that human life begins at fertilization (S. 1456: Sanctity of Human Life Act,) and to prohibit subjecting gun dealers to reporting requirements for the sale of multiple rifles or shotguns to the same person (S. 1397: Protecting the Second Amendment Act.) By Alabama standards, Strange was a centrist Republican.
Strange launched his campaign to keep his seat in the Special Election and quickly garnered the endorsements of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the senior Senator from Alabama Richard Shelby, Vice President Mike Pence and of course, President Donald Trump. However, Judge Roy Moore, who has been criticized for his controversial far-right sentiments — known for making racist, homophobic and Islamophobic statements — challenged Strange for the Republican nomination. He was also a proponent of the infamous “Birther” movement, falsely alleging President Obama was not born in the United States. Moore nonetheless managed to receive endorsements from a number of influential figures such as former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, US Housing Secretary Ben Carson, commentator Ann Coulter, British politician Nigel Farage, actor Chuck Norris and seven current Republican members of the House of Representatives. In the primary, Strange and Moore advanced to a runoff with 32.8% and 38.9%, respectively.
By contrast, former federal prosecutor Doug Jones easily won the Democratic Primary, securing the nomination with 66.1% of the vote. He is best known for prosecuting two KKK members who perpetrated the 1963 church bombing that killed four African-American girls in Birmingham. Among his endorsers were former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire. Biden was one of the first to encourage Jones to seek the office. At that stage, almost no one expected Jones to have a chance to win in solidly-Republican Alabama.
The Campaign Trail and Moore on the Defense
The first major shock of this election came in the Republican runoff between Strange and Moore on September 26, in which Moore bested Strange by 54.6% of the vote and won all but 4 of Alabama’s 67 counties. Moore carried this victory despite a record of two suspensions from the Alabama Supreme Court, first for refusing a federal court order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the courthouse, and then for defying the May 2016 U.S. Supreme Court decision on gay marriage.
Afterwards, the President rushed to tweet: “Congratulations to Roy Moore on his Republican Primary win in Alabama. Luther Strange started way back & ran a good race. Roy, WIN in Dec!” and also commented “Sounds like a really great guy who ran a fantastic race. He will help to#MAGA!” At that moment, it seemed like Moore would easily win the Senate seat. Alabama had not elected a Democrat to the Senate in 30 years, Moore had already won a statewide election despite having been removed from the Alabama Supreme Court, and now he had the support of the President, who was very popular in the state. Mainstream Republicans were silent, but as happened in many other cases, it seemed likely that they would fall in line and lend their support to him.
However, events in November changed the entire election landscape.. Nine women came forward to accuse Moore of sexual misconduct, three of which accused him of sexual assault (two when they were 16 and 14). Six of the women alleged that Moore either pursued relationships or engaged in unwanted behavior with them while they were between the ages of 16 and 22. Except for one incident that took place in 1991, all these cases dated back to the 1970’s, while Moore was an assistant district attorney. Furthermore, Faye Gray, a former Alabama police officer who worked in the 1980’s said on MSNBC: “we were told to watch him at the ballgames… and make sure he didn’t hang around the cheerleaders.” Moore was never criminally charged.
Moore responded to the allegations on Sean Hannity’s radio talk show on November 10th, stating “These allegations are completely false, false and misleading… I have a special concern for protection of young ladies.” On November 27 in a public campaign event, he said “This is simply dirty politics. It’s a sign of the immorality of our times” and went on to use an all-too familiar tagline, calling the allegations “fake news”, as they were published by The Washington Post, despised by both him and the President.
Following the allegations, Moore quickly lost the support of the main figures of the GOP establishment: Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker Paul Ryan, former Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney, Ohio Governor John Kasich, Senators Mike Lee, Steve Daines, Bill Cassidy, Ted Cruz and Cory Gardner all revoked their endorsements and suggested he withdraw from the Senate race. Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona even donated $100 to the Jones campaign, citing “country over party.” Richard Shelby, the senior Senator from Alabama, said “Alabama deserves better.” The RNC temporarily halted its work in supporting Moore’s campaign.
Yet it was too late revoke his nomination. Republicans were stuck with deciding whether or not to try a last-minute write-in campaign. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Orrin Hatch floated this idea to elect Luther Strange, and McConnell even proposed attempting to elect Attorney General Sessions. The President, on the other hand, continued to support Moore, citing his denials: “He totally denies it … He says it didn’t happen. You have to listen to him also.” He also took the opportunity to attack Moore’s Democratic opponent, tweeting on November 26: “The last thing we need in Alabama and the U.S. Senate is a Schumer/Pelosi puppet who is WEAK on Crime, WEAK on the Border, Bad for our Military and our great Vets, Bad for our 2nd Amendment, AND WANTS TO RAISES TAXES TO THE SKY. Jones would be a disaster!”
Meanwhile, Doug Jones was focusing his efforts on rallying voters and raising campaign funds. By December, all major political prediction sites rated the race as either a “toss-up” or a “tilt Democratic.” The Jones campaign especially focused on African-American communities across the state, devoting a large portion of funding to voter outreach.
On the other hand, Steve Bannon opened rallies for Moore, and routinely questioned the merits of the accusations: “Let’s be right, ok, this whole thing was a setup, this whole thing was weaponized, right?” Moore and his campaign refused to debate Jones, with Moore stating, “There’s a great disparity; we don’t need to debate.” On December 4, the RNC hastily reaffirmed its support for Moore, just hours after President Trump tweeted that: “Democrats refusal to give even one vote for massive Tax Cuts is why we need Republican Roy Moore to win in Alabama. We need his vote on stopping crime, illegal immigration, Border Wall, Military, Pro Life, V.A., Judges, 2nd Amendment and more. No to Jones, a Pelosi/Schumer Puppet!” On Election Day, December 12, Jones received the support of Former President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton via Twitter. Additionally, Obama recorded a ‘robocall’ that was placed to Alabama voters in the final days before the election.
The Blue Victory and a Road to Bipartisanship
On the evening of December 12, Americans awaited the outcome of the election with nervous anticipation. I myself eagerly stayed up that night until the AP called the election at 10:23 PM. In around the half hour before it was called, with all precincts having reported in rural Moore-leaning counties, and with more precincts to count in urban Jones-leaning counties, it was already becoming clear that Jones would likely edge out Moore. A few exit poll statistics are especially telling: 60% of voters between the ages of 18-29, 61% of voters under 45, 93% of African-American men and 98% of African-American women voted for Jones. The outreach programs had particularly focused on the registration of young people and African-Americans, which significantly increased the total shares of both demographics. Additionally, the last-minute scramble by Republicans alienated many moderate Republicans and Independents, who couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Moore or Jones, with write-ins making up 1.7% of the final vote total. The write-in votes included Luther Strange, who won about 7,800 votes and Jeff Sessions, who won just over 400 votes. Many write-in votes were comedic entries of “Anyone Else,” “Any Other Republican,” “Mickey Mouse,” “Bugs Bunny,” “Spongebob Squarepants,” and “Jesus Christ.” Meanwhile, Moore slightly underperformed Donald Trump in the rural counties whose votes he had most anticipated. Ultimately, Jones bested Moore 49.9% to 48.4% (by 20,715 votes.)
In Jones’ victory speech, he remarked, ”I have always believed that the people of Alabama have more in common than that divide us. We have shown not just around the state of Alabama but we have shown the country the way that we can be unified… I’ve said it before, Alabama has been at a crossroads. We have been at crossroads in the past. And unfortunately we have usually taken the wrong fork. Tonight, ladies and gentlemen, you took the right road.”
Jones enjoyed congratulations from political figures across the spectrum, even earning a somewhat warm remark from the President himself, who could not resist mentioning the effect that write-in votes had on the election: “Congratulations to Doug Jones on a hard fought victory. The write-in votes played a very big factor, but a win is a win. The people of Alabama are great, and the Republicans will have another shot at this seat in a very short period of time. It never ends!” On December 13, the Roy Moore campaign released a video in which he refused to concede the election, citing that it had yet to receive the results from Alabama officials, notably stating, “Abortion, sodomy and materialism [had] taken the place of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill quickly responded, clarifying it was “highly unlikely” that Jones would not be certified as the winner. Jones stated, “The people of Alabama have spoken, it’s time to move on.”
Many political analysts were quick to point out the potential impact that the sexual misconduct allegations against Moore played in the election. However, Jones’ chief media strategist, Joe Trippi, disagrees with the assertion that Jones would have lost if not for the allegations, as the candidates “were in a dead heat in Alabama on election day.” He went on to say he believed that Moore was compromised as a candidate even before the allegations surfaced: “The race was pretty defined by the time those allegations came out. I definitely think they hurt him. But what if we had we spent all those days talking about why he’d been removed from office, about some of the crazy things he’d said over time?”
Since his election, Jones has expressed hopes of promoting bipartisanship. He doesn’t plan on labeling himself as a progressive or a conservative Democrat but as a “Doug Jones Democrat,” and that people should not “expect me to vote solidly for Republicans or Democrats.” He has appeared on Fox News, CNN and NBC, signaling a willingness to reach out to all parts of partisan demographics.
Senator Doug Jones and ‘The Radical Middle’
Whether or not one would argue that this result is a harbinger of what is to come in 2018 or beyond in the American political landscape, the 2016 Alabama Special Election was undoubtedly monumental. It edged the Democrats closer to a majority in the Senate, now divided at just 51-49, giving Republicans little leeway for legislative accomplishment. It galvanized not only national conversation but electoral action against sexual misconduct, which the 2016 Presidential Election largely failed to do, despite the many allegations of sexual misconduct against President Trump. Finally, it has shown that a well-run campaign that activates communities to get out the vote can defy political norms in any state, even Alabama.
On December 28, 2017, the Alabama State Canvassing Board certified Doug Jones as the election winner, effectively ignoring the claims of the Moore campaign. However, Moore has yet to officially concede the race and has continued to solicit contributions from supporters for an “election integrity fund.” Meanwhile, on January 2, Jones announced that he would be hiring former Department of Transportation staffer and Birmingham native Dana Gresham as his Chief of Staff, making Gresham the only current African-American Chief of Staff for a Democratic Senator.
On January 3, 2018, two new members of the U.S. Senate were sworn in by Vice President Pence: Tina Smith of Minnesota and Doug Jones of Alabama. Walking through the Capitol for his swear-in ceremony, Jones stated, “I think any good Senator is bipartisan, and that’s what I’m looking to [be].” Joe Biden was also present to escort the Jones family and for the photo-op after the swearing-in ceremony, urging him to “Smile, man, smile!” and joking, “Howell Heflin’s looking at you” — a nod to the last Democrat to hold office as a Senator from Alabama. Afterwards, Jones was able to meet many members of congress, including Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, whom he had not previously met. Like Jones, Manchin represents a conservative state, and was able to offer Jones a word of greeting as one who had experienced a similar situation in a turbulent time: “Welcome to the radical middle.”
The first thing she noticed was the empty bed — the sheets undone and an imprint of his body looming before her. It was rotund and reminiscent, mocking her. His dressers were open and empty, the nightstand to her right devoid of any marker of his existence. Miscellaneous ties and dress shoes littered the floor, and his favorite bathrobe was hanging apathetically from a chair. The most concerning sign, she recalls, was the absence of his iPhone — an item she describes as having been his “lifeline” in the past few weeks. Alarmed, she followed a trail of footprints out of the grand bedroom, down a courtly hallway lined with imposing portraits of former presidents, and around the building’s bend, finally arriving at an open window. The window was completely ajar, its blinds fluttering in slow, organic movements. It was at this very moment that terror-stricken Melania realized he had run away. President Donald J. Trump had fled the White House in the middle of the night and no one, not even his own wife, had noticed.
Melania’s next course of action was to check her husband’s Twitter Feed, the only medium he had unabashedly confided in during his short time as president. So beloved was this platform to the Donald that often, Melania would awake at three in the morning to find him tweeting away on his Apple device. Hurriedly, she ran to her phone and signed onto her Twitter account. Expecting a barrage of tweets from Mr. Trump detailing his dissatisfaction with Congress’s inability to repeal the Affordable Care Act or its equally detestable failure to enact a new tax plan, Mrs. Trump was quite surprised to find pictures of her husband posing next to Mr. Vladimir Putin of Russia. The pictures were, in the words of Mrs. Trump, “weirdly provocative.” Melania describes one picture in particular, where Donald can be seen holding a bouquet of white roses while blowing a kiss to Vladimir, who winks in return. The two appear to be interlocked in a romantic gaze. But the most telling detail is the adjoining caption, “Just eloped!”
After seeing the pictures, Melania had to catch her breath. She recalls lying in the fetal position for hours on end, realizing the gravity of the scandal: Donald Trump had not only abdicated his presidency, leaving her to fight his battles, but had run away to marry Vladimir Putin, the very man whose country was accused of colluding with the Trump campaign against Hillary Clinton in the 2016 American Presidential Election. This was an incomparable blow to Melania. Donald had been unfaithful, removed himself from command, and confirmed his politically malicious — and apparently, romantic — ties with Vladimir Putin. Although she lives to tell the tale, stoically sharing her story with every news organizations that asks, Melania describes the aftermath of the scandal in one, brutal word: hell.
As all dutiful wives are bound to do when marriage fails, Melania cannot help but blame herself. She perceives her own actions as culpable for her Donald’s flight from the White House and pursuance of elaborate romantic endeavors with authoritarian rulers. The question of what she did wrong has plagued her ever since. Was she too uppity? Her husband often glared at her when she spoke in public, as if he was embarrassed by her sentience. Was she boring? He frequently made crude remarks about other women’s bodies and alluded to unfaithfulness. Melania berates herself for having missed the signs of her husband’s adultery — his frequently missed calls from Vladimir, his skyping a “business partner” at all hours of the night, and his hiding of mysterious letters packaged in pink envelopes signed “VP <3.”
While enduring one of the most tumultuous times of her life, Melania is not alone. Standing behind her is an entourage of White House staff and secretaries who remind her that she can’t dwell on the past forever. Once she is able to, Melania will return to her home in New York City’s Trump Towers, where she will occupy a now ghostly home filled with her husband’s paraphernalia. She has not spoken to Donald since his departure, and current forecasts do not show the two speaking any time soon.
As for Trump’s children, the general consensus is support for their father’s renegade decision. Ivanka Trump, when asked to speak on the matter, said she could detect her father’s romantic feelings for Mr. Putin since the day of their first correspondence: “He always radiated positivity after a phone call with Vladimir. He seemed equally enthralled at the prospect of a friendship with that of a political alliance. At the time, I couldn’t really envision a future for them, given their political obligations, but now it’s as if they’ve been liberated. This is a joyous occasion, really.” The children, accustomed to their father’s shifting relationships, claim this act to be more “common,” rather than an “aberration” in their familial lives, and are eager to wholeheartedly support their father in “whatever endeavors that make him the happiest…and the richest.”
The FBI’s investigation into Russian collusion has, with the blessings of Melania Trump, unearthed the hoard of love letters from Putin from one of Donald’s “secret” drawers. The letters are a trove of incriminating evidence, including love poems from Vladimir that offer Donald political aid as some form of a sexual overture. One particularly explicit poem reads:
Trump, my dearest.
I know your polls are down.
Do not fret, my love.
Here are some Clinton emails I found!
Attached in the letter are printouts of Clinton’s emails, cutout in heart shapes and pasted with lipstick. One letter even provides the name of a Russian hacker who would alter the poll numbers at Trump’s “soonest request.” The federal investigation, led by former FBI Chief Robert Mueller, found this evidence sound enough to invalidate the results of the 2016 Presidential Election. Mrs. Clinton, the team believes, is the rightful victor — as was indicated by her triumph in the popular vote — and they are currently awaiting approval from Congress to appoint her as President.
For now, some of us can breathe a sigh of relief — one we have been holding in since Trump’s inauguration — while others can mourn the loss of their beloved president. Regardless, this should be a reminder that we must scrutinize our elected officials more carefully and vote for presidents who are fully committed to their executive role. If we fail to do so, the sanctity of American democracy may meet an untimely fate sooner than anyone can anticipate.
For many, the thought of a mayoral town hall evokes caustic images of citizens whining about airplane noise or monologuing about a plastic bag snagged in the branches of their favorite tree. In the beloved show Parks and Recreation, town halls are where a bold Leslie Knope confronts the minutia of her constituents’ lives. Others may imagine a town hall as an opportunity for the intense scrutiny of public officials—a coveted chance to put a politician in the hot seat. Both scenarios reflect parts of the Mayoral Town Hall that took place in the auditorium of Middle School 51 last Thursday, October 26th, a night characterized by an odd blend of political tension and gratification.
The event began with an introduction from District 39’s Councilmember Brad Lander, followed by a brief word from Assembly Member Robert Carroll. As each spoke from the center of the gym floor, the Mayor reclined in a swivel chair. Wherever he pivoted, audience members’ eyes followed. When the gray-suited, six-foot-five man finally rose to speak, his stature alone commanded attention. He began with a family anecdote, fondly recalling his daughter Chiara’s experience playing basketball in the M.S.51 gymnasium. His familiarity with the space seemed to lighten the mood as he transitioned into shop-talk, mentioning universal pre-K among the progressive policies he enacted during his first term.
When new Assembly Members, State Senators, Members of Congress, and Public Advocate Tish James filed into the town hall, they were periodically recognized by the Mayor or Councilmember Lander. Administrative officials from the Mayor’s office and various city agencies lined the back hall of the auditorium as the Mayor spoke, ready to be called on stage at any given moment. The first question asked by an audience member came from a Park Slope Civic Council representative who inquired about small business protections. From there on, the questions ranged in topic and scope from citywide school segregation to a dangerous intersection only blocks away. Middle school students from M.S.51 shared their support for Vision Zero, while high school students from across the city inquired about youth participation in government and lowering the statewide voting age.
As the night continued, the Mayor’s back-and-forth with audience members became more charged. The Mayor began shushing constituents who he believed were wasting time with the mic. He also increasingly called upon the government officials that he deemed accountable for constituent issues and even sparred with some of those officials on stage, questioning the timetables for city projects. Deriding the “bureaucracy,” de Blasio seemed to distinguish himself from the agencies working under his administration. A few questions were met with Oprah-esque enthusiasm from the Mayor as he seized upon opportunities to provide quick fixes, like the filling of a local pothole, yet refrained from addressing related issues on a citywide scale.
Chris Stauffer, a senior at Bard High School Early College Manhattan and Vice Chair of the Youth Progressive Policy Group, left the town hall feeling conflicted: “It was great to see the Mayor reaching out to the community. But [sometimes] the Mayor dodged the question, which left me a bit disappointed.”
Tensions rose when Mayor de Blasio was asked about his stance on the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), a group of State Senators who are elected as Democrats yet caucus with Republicans once in office. Raising his hands, as if in defense, and taking a step forward, the Mayor expressed a desire to work with any willing politician and recognized Jesse Hamilton, the State Senator and IDC member in the audience. The Mayor subsequently emphasized the need for a Democratic majority in the New York State Senate and called for an end to gerrymandering.
The Mayor also played defense on several questions pertaining to the Medgar Evers College Preparatory School in Crown Heights. Students and parents from Medgar Evers challenged the school’s lack of facilities, expressing their desire for a gymnasium and an auditorium. After the Mayor brought Lorraine Grillo, President of the New York City School Construction Authority, on stage, the two sparred with Medgar Evers constituents, who were planted throughout the audience. The discussion quickly turned from the lack of school facilities to government-proposed changes in the school’s application process, changes many in the Medgar Evers community fear will be damaging to the school’s established and seemingly successful approach to admissions. Eventually, it was agreed that Ms. Grillo would arrange a new visit to the Medgar Evers site and speak with school representatives.
The end of the town hall seemed a relief for both the Mayor and city constituents. Some audience members approached city officials before filing out. Others joined a lengthy line to snap a picture with the Mayor. All of the night’s talk seemed to have produced little progress; the quick fixes of pothole politics did not come anywhere near close to resolving or even facilitating honest discussion around looming city issues. Still, many constituents left with the feeling that their voices had been heard—if not by their Mayor, then by their fellow New Yorkers.