Impassioned youth lead call for change

Evelina Gaivoronskaia | The Chronicle

Maya Rao shouts chants through a megaphone at the demonstration outside of the August 9 Mason city council meeting.

With Government classes preaching political engagement, students who cannot vote are finding ways to make an impact on the political climate of their community.

Senior Logan Strunk is not 18 yet, so he chooses to take political action using avenues that, unlike voting, don’t have an age limit. For him and his peers, attending protests, signing petitions, and speaking out on social media are some of the ways to voice their opinions. He doesn’t believe age should stop anyone who wants to make an impact.

One of the ways he makes a difference is through his youth group. He started with NTFY: The Reform Jewish Youth Movement as a freshman and then later joined The Chabad Teen Networks. One of the group’s projects was a food and goods drive where Strunk volunteered to pack the items. The experience made him much more passionate about the issue of poverty.

“It’s one thing to know that there is child poverty in America,” Strunk said, “but you might not think about what it really means until you’re packaging diapers and formula for people that can’t afford them.”

Alongside COVID-19 relief food drives, Strunk’s youth group attended several marches, such as the Martin Luther King Jr Day March in downtown Cincinnati. Strunk believes that the education his youth group provided him helps him grasp the issues better. It also helps him speak out more because “when [he] feels like he is educated, [he] feels more comfortable spreading information.”

Strunk decided to use his voice again on August 9, at the Mason City Council Meeting. During the previous city council meeting, a council member had mentioned being interested in passing an ordinance to make Mason a “sanctuary city for the unborn.” When Strunk heard about the possibility of Mason banning abortion, he felt that “it was realy wrong and [he] wouldn’t stand for it.”

So, he found out when the next council meeting was scheduled and decided, along with many of his peers, that he was going to attend it and voice his beliefs.

“My voice isn’t as heard as somebody who can vote,” Strunk said. “[But still,] the youth have a really big impact on the political climate.”

Also politically involved, senior Maya Rao was another teen in attendance of the protest. Their immersion in the experience was aided in part by Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio, a group focused on campaigning for safe and legal abortions statewide. Rao met with the group a few days before to brainstorm speaking points and a general plan of action for the entire event. Involvement with active organizations is another route that many high school students take to get their voice heard.

Rao is a first-generation American whose parents fled the Soviet Union in search of freedom. Rao’s motivation to speak out publicly and to work with advocacy groups like PPA Ohio was their parents’ sacrifice.

“My parents uprooted themselves from their home country to immigrate to the U.S. because they believed in these freedoms,” Rao said. “It was my duty as a citizen and as a person that can get pregnant to stand up for my and other people’s rights.”

Rao stayed with the Planned Parenthood group throughout the protest. At one point, they got handed a megaphone and got an opportunity to lead the people around them through chants like, “My body, my choice”.

“I really was not expecting that,” Rao said.“It wasn’t planned, but I had this opportunity and I was going to use it.” Even though they were nervous, Rao felt that taking an Advanced Placement U.S. Government and Politics class last year “inspired [them] to feel confident enough to know that [they] could do it.”

To voice their views, many students use the internet to protest and express their opinion. Unfortunately, social media can be intensely polarizing, as it is often easier to feed the flame of aggression from behind a screen. Senior Will Van Verth noticed that with the influx of political action on social media came the influx of misinformation and miscommunication. He kept seeing arguments that would not go beyond the simple ‘I’m right, you’re wrong’ back-and-forth.

In those arguments, Van Verth disliked that “no one was really expressing themselves or listening to others.” He wanted to see a change in communication between political activists from any side.

So, during the summer of 2020, he started a podcast titled “United We Stand”. Van Verth would pick out an issue to talk about. He tried to stay away from social media as much as possible because he found it to be unreliable. After Van Verth chose a topic, he would seek out a peer to discuss the issue with. He tried to invite guests that were “on the opposing sides so [they] were able to balance each other out.”

To ensure that the podcast was as objective as possible, Van Verth kept his editing to a minimum, stating that,“it was just a raw conversation,” and the only edits were cuts of awkward pauses. He did not want the podcast to feel rushed so that his guest could provide “intelligent responses” without having to “come up with something on the fly.”

In the past, Van Verth had tried to debate people over text and had “gotten hate for it”. This negative response inspired him to create a space where people could safely debate and “have actual conversations”, rather than just fighting. With his podcast, Van Verth hopes to encourage more informed and passionate political conversations.

“Politics can be dividing,” Van Verth said. “So, if you are passionate about something, go out and actually research it, make informed posts about it, don’t just repost, repost, repost.”

Photo contributed by Maya Rao