The GDS High School continued election-related engagement this week.
The Student Action Committee’s (SAC) Voter Mobilization Initiative (VMI) continued its work to organize GDS High School students and students in area schools to phone-bank. This week marked an increase from weekly to daily phone-banking for non-partisan calls to historically disenfranchised voters in states like North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Texas. VMI co-leader Maddie Feldman ’22 coordinates and trains the phone-banking participants and keeps track of total calls. By Friday evening last week, Maddie’s count showed that students had logged 1,625 calls in six weeks. Maddie anticipated that those numbers would dramatically increase with the move to daily phone-banking. Maddie is also leading a “See Something? Say Something” campaign to combat voter suppression locally.
Even while student leadership spawned new projects teacher-led, in-depth programming began in earnest. Following a past assembly on civic engagement with Jeff Johnson, who returned to connect with students once again this morning, history teacher Marjorie Brimley kicked off this week’s programming with a Tuesday lunchtime optional discussion of Senate battlegrounds. More than 40 students and teachers joined the virtual call as Marjorie provided detailed commentary on the tightest Senate races in the country. She noted also that students in her government class had previously written about some of these “purple” or toss-up battleground states.
Marjorie’s analysis covered the anticipated loss of a democratic seat (Doug Jones, Alabama) and the particular “excitement” of a state like Georgia that not only has the unusual honor of holding two senate races in a single election year, but is also one of only two states in the country to mandate a run-off election should no candidate receive more than 50% of the vote AND has consistently been a hotspot for voter suppression. Marjorie discussed the uncertainty in Maine’s senate race, noting that Maine uses a ranked choice voting process, meaning that candidates receiving the fewest votes are eliminated and their votes are recast to voters’ second and third choices.
While the stakes in these races could not be higher, Marjorie relished the “fun” opportunity to explore the political landscape of the toss-up 2020 Senate races.
Jeff Johnson returned to GDS after an in-person visit this past January to speak about civic engagement and the upcoming elections for the HS assembly on October 28. (Johnson also participated in a Dinner and Conversations discussion on civic engagement with Russell Shaw earlier this month). Johnson brought great energy to the Forum during his last visit--and today over Zoom was no different. His discussion outlined questions of how individual beliefs can emerge in someone’s political consciousness, even as those beliefs don’t typically fit together in the structures of the major U.S. political parties. He was clear about his own experiences sticking to issues in which he believes, even at the cost of conforming to a larger body politic. He also emphasized the critical role that local politics can and should play as a seed bed for engagement in democracy and civic action. His anecdotes demonstrated the importance of hearing out and understanding the considered opinion of someone who differs with your views, both to be able to grow stronger and more fully develop personal beliefs and to engage across difference.
Jeff was eager to open the Zoom for questions from students, where topics ranged from choosing candidates to support, Johnson’s view of the American Dream, ranked choice voting, and the relative paucity of political platforms in this presidential election. The student question portion appears to have inspired him to request that he moderate a student panel for his return in a few weeks to do a post-election wrap-up, which is definitely going to be something to check out.
On October 30, History teachers Sue Ikenberry and Carlos Angulo will present on the Electoral College and post-election policy landscape scenarios respectively. In part one, Sue will discuss how the Electoral College works—or doesn’t—and how it’s likely to play out in the 2020 Election. In part two, Carlos will explore what happens next in congressional policy making depending upon the possible outcomes of the election.
Programming will return following Election Day, which will be a flex-day for students in order for those who plan to serve as poll workers to do so without missing synchronous classes. Special schedules on November 4-5 will accommodate a morning faculty gathering with Paula McAvoy, author of The Political Classroom: Evidence and Ethics in Democratic Education, followed by several lunchtime sessions for students and faculty, including part two of Sue’s and Marjorie’s presentations. The High School student-run club Student Voices will run a discussion forum and the counselors will offer a session called “Emotions of the Election.” Carlos will present part two of his discussion, students will prepare for a follow-up visit from Jeff Johnson, and there will be an open virtual discussion.
Understanding the political structures currently in place—and developing some savvy about how to navigate those systems—ultimately empowers GDS students as citizens equipped to take part in the great conversations of life.