Present, future leaders talk issues at student-led town hall in Northampton

  • Northampton High School students Tadea Martin-Gonzalez, left, and Cherilyn Strader, right, talk with state Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa prior to a town hall meeting that included state Sen. Jo Comerford Friday at Northampton High School. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Sen. Jo Comerford speaks during a town hall meeting hosted by the Northampton High School Democrats Club Friday at the school. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A row of Northampton High School students applaud as classmate Cherilyn Strader speaks at the start of a town hall meeting with Sen. Jo Comerford and Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, Friday, at Northampton High School. The event was hosted by the Northampton High School Democrats Club. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa speaks during a town hall meeting hosted by the Northampton High School Democrats Club, Friday, Feb. 15, 2019 at the school. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Cherilyn Strader, right,hugs Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa at the start of a town hall meeting. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Northampton High School student Tadea Martin-Gonzalez talks with Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa prior to a town hall meeting that was hosted by the Northampton High School Democrats Club.

Staff Writer
Published: 2/16/2019 12:55:32 AM

NORTHAMPTON — On flyers distributed around the city, state Sen. Jo Comerford and state Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa appeared as headliners for a town hall Friday night at Northampton High School.

But the new legislators weren’t the only attendees to hold the spotlight — at the front of the auditorium, NHS students took to the podium to direct an event that senior Cherilyn Strader described as “truly a long time in the making.”

“As soon as our new legislators were elected,” Strader said to the audience, “student groups began working to ensure that our community would have an opportunity to get to know our legislators and what work they hope to accomplish this session.”

“But of course, the work isn’t all about them,” Strader said. “It’s about us.”

Strader is a co-chair of the Northampton High School Democrats, the group that hosted and organized the town hall with support from a number of other student organizations. The event drew 200 people.

“We’re bringing the seat to the table for our friends,” senior Ben Moss-Horowitz, who is also part of the Democrats club, told the Gazette. “We’re kind of making the space and bringing people in.”

Following introductions by Comerford and Sabadosa, junior Tadea Martin-Gonzalez opened the floor to questions from student participants, which was followed by a segment open to anyone in attendance.

Student questions covered a range of issues including climate change, consent, lowering the voting age to 16, gun control, making schools inclusive for LGTBQ individuals and supporting students of color.

In response to a student question about making schools inclusive for LGBTQ individuals, Comerford emphasized the need to ensure that schools have the funding to move forward with inclusive programs, as well as “making gender neutral bathrooms the norm” and bringing a non-binary identification option to all state documents.

Sabadosa called for a legislature that includes elected officials who are representative of their constituents and can serve as role models.

“We have to make sure we’re not just passing legislation to be potentially inclusive,” Sabadosa said. “We need to be actually inclusive … We need to elect diversity.”

And both Comerford and Sabadosa want younger people to be part of the voter base making these decisions, as they detailed in response to a question about how they will continue to support voting rights beginning for citizens as young as 16.

“Yes, it is true that there are a lot of people that will argue that 16-year-olds are not responsible enough, or that they are not informed enough,” Sabadosa said. “And I just want to bring all of you to the Statehouse to argue against that.”

Comerford agreed that young people deserve an opportunity to make their case before legislators.

“First of all, young people are the future… you’re inheriting this planet, therefore you should have a say in it as soon as we can possibly manage,” she said, “because you have a vision of the future that I believe is bolder and brighter and bigger than the one currently being carried forward.”

Sabadosa and Comerford also answered questions from the general audience regarding topics such as nuclear weapons spending, supporting community colleges, Hampshire College, deforestation and Medicare for All.

For Strader, seeing the community come together to share issues that bridge generations stood out as a high point of the event.

“It’s not just our issues, but everyone’s issues,” Strader said. “And we need to work together on issues like climate change and homelessness.”

Martin-Gonzalez, who is also a member of the Democrats club, echoed Strader’s appreciation for bringing the community together.

“It’s really easy to lose track of how lucky we are to be in this community,” Martin-Gonzalez said, citing ongoing support from Northampton residents.

Audience member Amy Guillemette of Northampton, whose daughter was involved with organizing the event, said she was impressed with the initiative shown by students.

“It’s amazing how involved and inspired they’ve become,” Guillemette said. “I think it’s a great source of education for them.” For Moss-Horowitz, the town hall is indicative of change at a larger level — a “new normal.”

“I’m just really excited, because I think we’re going to make awesome voters,” Moss-Horowitz said, “and we’re going to make awesome adults.”

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.


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