Teen force behind town hall: NHS students to host political forum

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  • Cherilyn Strader, 18, co-chair of the Northampton High School Democrats Club, and Jake Duggan, walk through Thornes Marketplace putting up flyers to promote Friday’s Town Hall with Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa and Sen. Jo Comerford. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Cherilyn Strader, 18, co-chair of the Northampton High School Democrats Club, hands a flyer to Court Cline, assistant to Mayor David Narkewicz, to promote Friday’s Town Hall with Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa and Sen. Jo Comerford. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Cherilyn Strader, 18, co-chair of the Northampton High School Democrats Club, and Jake Duggan, walk through Thornes Marketplace putting up flyers to promote Friday’s Town Hall with Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa and Sen. Jo Comerford. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Cherilyn Strader, 18, co-chair of the Northampton High School Democrats Club, and Jake Duggan, walk through Thornes Marketplace putting up flyers to promote Friday’s Town Hall with Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa and Sen. Jo Comerford.  Cherilyn Strader, 18, co-chair of the Northampton High School Democrats Club, and Jake Duggan, walk through Thornes Marketplace putting up flyers to promote Friday’s Town Hall with Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa and Sen. Jo Comerford. 

  • Cherilyn Strader, 18, co-chair of the Northampton High School Democrats Club, and Jake Duggan, walk through Thornes Marketplace putting up flyers to promote Friday’s Town Hall with Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa and Sen. Jo Comerford. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Cherilyn Strader, 18, co-chair of the Northampton High School Democrats Club, and Jake Duggan, walk through Thornes Marketplace putting up flyers to promote Friday’s Town Hall with Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa and Sen. Jo Comerford. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Cherilyn Strader, 18, co-chair of the Northampton High School Democrats Club, and Jake Duggan, walk through Thornes Marketplace putting up flyers to promote Friday’s town hall with state Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa and state Sen. Jo Comerford. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Cherilyn Strader, 18, co-chair of the Northampton High School Democrats Club, and Jake Duggan, walk through Thornes Marketplace putting up flyers to promote Friday’s town hall with state Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa and state Sen. Jo Comerford. Below, Strader hands a flyer to Court Cline, assistant to Mayor David Narkewicz. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Cherilyn Strader, 18, co-chair of the Northampton High School Democrats Club, and Jake Duggan, walk through Thornes Marketplace putting up flyers to promote Friday’s Town Hall with Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa and Sen. Jo Comerford. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Cherilyn Strader, 18, leader of the Northampton High School Democrats Club, waits in line at Haymarket Cafe in Northampton, to ask about putting up a flyer to promote Friday’s Town Hall with Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa and Sen. Jo Comerford. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer 
Published: 2/12/2019 10:36:29 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Northampton High School student Cherilyn Strader has sent a Facebook invitation to Mayor David Narkewicz for an event on Friday night, a town hall with Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa and Sen. Jo Comerford hosted by the Northampton High School Democrats Club, a group Strader leads as the co-chair. They’re Facebook friends, she said of the mayor, but she’s not yet sure if he will attend.

On Tuesday, Strader and fellow senior Jake Duggan put up flyers for the event in downtown Northampton during their free period. They made 31 flyers exactly, Strader said, standing downtown wearing white Converse sneakers.

After hanging a poster in City Hall, Strader asked Duggan, “Should we deliver one to the mayor?”

Seconds later, she was bounding up the stairs, flyers in hand, on a mission. She walked into the mayor’s office, Duggan trailing behind, and politely announced the purpose of her visit. Mayor Narkewicz was in Boston, said the mayor’s assistant, but he assured the students he’d pass along the information.

In the town hall event on Friday, Sabadosa and Comerford will be open to questions about topics including climate change and gun control, and organizers are taking questions from the public in advance, as well.

“I’m really looking forward to high school students asking questions,” Sabadosa told the Gazette. “They are the next generation of voters, and these issues are incredibly pertinent to them.”

Tuesday’s impending snowstorm was no deterrent for Strader and Duggan: Armed with masking tape, the students made their way through Main Street, taping up flyers on a defunct post-office box, bulletin boards in various coffee shops, and in the bus-stop area near the Academy of Music.

Strader did most of the talking. “Hi, we’re hosting a town hall Friday,” she said to the cashier at Tart Baking Co., holding out a flyer. A few minutes later, at Pita Pockets, she spotted a flyer that someone had already put up — so she extended a personal invitation to the cashier to attend.

At 18, Strader seems comfortable talking to people — and she often talks to them about politics. As her Twitter bio puts it, she’s a full-time activist, full-time high school senior. Below her bio is a link to online voter registration for the state. Among her Twitter followers: Comerford and Rep. Mindy Domb.

As for her extracurriculars, she co-chairs the Northampton High School Democrats, currently organizes the Pioneer Valley Students for Gun Control, and helped organize the gun-control march last spring that drew a crowd of roughly 2,000 people in Northampton as part of the March for Our Lives movement.

“We must fight for change,” she told the crowd while standing on the steps of City Hall. “We are sick and tired of seeing our peers in coffins.”

Last fall, Strader led a group of students in the Northampton High School Democrats Club in an effort to write postcards to Christine Blasey Ford, following Ford’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee that then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her while the two were in high school.

Young people want to be heard, Strader said recently after school. As she spoke, lockers slammed, and she checked her phone every so often for a message from her mom who’d just arrived to pick her up. (Strader does not have a driver’s license.) Next to her phone sat her pink water bottle with stickers from Represent.Us and 1 in 3, a campaign that seeks to end the stigma and shame around abortion.

Though she could not vote in the most recent election, Strader recently turned 18 and is prepared for the next one — she preregistered.

“I got a thing in the mail the day after I turned 18 being like, you are now enrolled in the Democratic Party in Northampton, here’s your polling address,” she said. “I was like, thank you, I already knew that. It was really exciting.”

Go-getter

Strader is the youngest of four children and said that when she was growing up, her family wasn’t involved in activism. Her mother, Kathy Strader, said that she doesn’t consider herself to be political, but she commended Strader.

“She’s a go-getter, and her determination is amazing,” Kathy Strader said. “I’m so not like that. I can’t get up and speak in front of people, and she can. She’s very dedicated, and she talks to people, and it’s amazing what she learns and what she does.”

Still, as a young child, there were signs pointing to Strader’s political future. “She always used to tell her brother, ‘Someday, you can run for president, and I’ll be your campaign manager,’” Kathy Strader recalled.

Strader said much of her exposure to activism was through the wider Northampton community, which exposed her to different perspectives and pushed her in a direction she wouldn’t have gone otherwise, she explained.

For example, she joined her school’s Feminist Collective and through that group was introduced to the Hampshire College’s Civil Liberties and Public Policy Conference, which focuses on issues of reproductive justice.

Strader ended up speaking at the conference after the organizers noticed her work on March for Our Lives, and she and her friends also put on a conference workshop on “teen activism in adult-dominated activist spaces.”

“But none of that would have happened if I wasn’t exposed to the greater Northampton community and the ideas that flow through it,” she said.

Now, Strader is working with the Pioneer Valley Students for Gun Control and thinking about organizing another march this year. She also has been interning with Sabadosa since the summer: She helped the former candidate canvass when she ran and is now working on Sabadosa’s newsletter, among other tasks.

Sabadosa said Strader was “a star intern.” Every day, Sabadosa said Strader would ask: “What are we going to do to make sure we win?”

“I constantly am impressed by her work and dedication to her community,” Sabadosa said. “She is passionate and well-spoken, and even in moments where I think she gets nervous before she’s speaking in front of a large crowd, she always pulls it together.”

Strader does not see her age as a barrier to making social change. “We as young people have an interesting perspective,” she said. “We can’t cast a physical vote, but we have a really important perspective because we’re going to be the ones taking on the world very soon.”

And she wants those who can vote to know that young people want to talk about important issues.

On a recent afternoon at Northampton High School, they did just that. Roughly a dozen students in the Democrats Club sat at desks as Strader led the meeting standing behind a podium in a history classroom. Students barraged her with questions about the town hall: Should there be a podium? Can we provide child care? Can we do a bake sale?

In an hour, the group filled the whiteboard stretching across the classroom walls with things to do and potential questions for the candidates written in blue marker.

Outside of school and meetings like these, most of Strader’s interests are political, she said. A typical weekend is a blend of politics and homework.

Does Strader want to run for office someday? “I’m not planning on it,” she said. In the meantime, she has been accepted into college — she’ll be attending Brandeis University in the fall where she plans to study, not surprisingly, politics.

But she does enjoy Netflix, and at her recent birthday party, she and her friends watched a TV show and a movie — though, granted, both had a political bent.

“I forced them all to watch an episode of ‘Scandal’ and ‘Legally Blonde 2,’” she said.

The town hall with Sabadosa and Comerford will take place at Northampton High School on Friday, Feb. 15 at 6 p.m. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/events/375302099940843/.

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com




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