Politicians to teens: Challenge the system, it’s your right

  • Cherilyn Strader, 17, of Florence asks a question of the panel. From left, U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, state Rep. Aaron Vega and Abby Weber, representing Senator Elizabeth Warren, answer question from youth in a town hall organized by Youth Rise Together and held at HCC Saturday afternoon. CAROL LOLLIS

  • Anna Stiles,16, of Northampton, listens as the panel of U.S. Representative Jim McGovern, State Representative Aaron Vega and Abby Weber , representing Senator Elizabeth Warren, answer question from youth in a town hall organized by Youth Rise Together and held at HCC Saturday afternoon. —CAROL LOLLIS

  • Anna Stiles,16, of Northampton, listens as the panel of U.S. Representative Jim McGovern, State Representative Aaron Vega and Abby Weber , representing Senator Elizabeth Warren, answer question from youth in a town hall organized by Youth Rise Together and held at HCC Saturday afternoon. —CAROL LOLLIS

  • Leif Maynard,17, of Northampton, listens as the panel of left, State Representative Aaron Vega and U.S. Representative Jim McGovern, answer question from youth in a town hall organized by Youth Rise Together and held at HCC Saturday afternoon. also present on the panel was Abby Weber , representing Senator Elizabeth Warren. —CAROL LOLLIS

  • Leif Maynard,17, of Northampton, listens as the panel of left, State Representative Aaron Vega and U.S. Representative Jim McGovern, answer question from youth in a town hall organized by Youth Rise Together and held at HCC Saturday afternoon. also present on the panel was Abby Weber , representing Senator Elizabeth Warren. —CAROL LOLLIS

  • A panel consisting of of U.S. Representative Jim McGovern, State Representative Aaron Vega and Abby Weber , representing Senator Elizabeth Warren, answer question from youth in a town hall organized by Youth Rise Together and held at HCC Saturday afternoon. —CAROL LOLLIS

  • Phebe Wood,14, of Montague, asks a question of the panel consisting of U.S. Representative Jim McGovern, State Representative Aaron Vega and Abby Weber , representing Senator Elizabeth Warren, answer question from youth in a town hall organized by Youth Rise Together and held at HCC Saturday afternoon. —CAROL LOLLIS

  • Alex Davidson Carroll,14, of Montague stands with other members of Youth Rise Together at the start of a town hall where youth ask question of a panel consisting of U.S. Representative Jim McGovern, State Representative Aaron Vega and Abby Weber , representing Senator Elizabeth Warren, held at HCC Saturday afternoon. —CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jacqui Perry, 15, of Northampton and Holyoke stands with other members of Youth Rise Together at the start of a town hall Saturday at Holyoke Community College. Politically engaged young people were able to question a panel consisting of U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, state Rep. Aaron Vega and Abby Weber, representing U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

@mjtidwell781
Published: 3/31/2018 5:34:02 PM

HOLYOKE — Of the 50 people or so people gathered in the auditorium of Holyoke Community College on the sunny Saturday before Easter, most were too young to vote. Some were too young to drive a car.

But their desire to get involved knew no age.

At the teen forum, organized by and for youth, young residents from across the Pioneer Valley asked questions of U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Worcester, and state Rep. Aaron Vega, D-Holyoke, on everything from keeping Holyoke safe to what the U.S. can do in regards to conflicts in Syria.

The forum was organized by Youth Rise Together, a Pioneer Valley group formed just over a year ago by teens who want to empower youth to resist hate and create political and social change, according to the group’s website.

Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, who is challenging U.S. Rep. Richard Neal for the First Congressional District seat, gave an introduction, and a staffer from U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s office wrote down all the questions to pass along to the senator. A smattering of adults sat quietly in the audience after youth organizers asked them to let the forum be a chance for young people to talk.

Some of the questions asked of the politicians included the best way for youth to engage with politicians, steps for people just getting involved in politics for the first time and what can be done to prevent police brutality against minorities.

“It all matters,” Vega said to the young audience. “Even on things like Syria. Contact your local legislator, who will contact someone above them and send the message up the ladder.”

Cassidy McDonough, a junior at Northampton High School and an organizer with Youth Rise Together, said the group had been planning the event well before the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that has galvanized youth activism, school walkouts and marches across the nation.

“This event came out of the fact that most decisions and politics are dominated by adults,” McDonough said. “Often teens don’t have a voice in the discussion.”

The organizers thanked local groups for their support, including Northampton Area Pediatrics, North Star: Self-Directed Learning for Teens, and Traprock Center for Peace and Justice.

Representatives from Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Everytown for Gun Safety had a table set up outside the forum.

“Parkland made the nation as a whole realize that we do have something to say,” said Youth Rise Together organizer and 16-year-old home-schooled student Avery Davidson Carroll. “This is to let our peers know that we do have a voice.”

Amatul-Wadud told the audience about what she called her “hell no” moment when she was 17 years old growing up in Springfield. She said two children were kidnapped and beaten in an abandoned building in her neighborhood.

The children were the same age as her sisters, she said, and it sparked in her the idea of government accountability as she asked herself why the abandoned building had been left unattended, a “death trap,” as she called it. She said she passed out fliers and worked to get the building shuttered and demolished, an effort that was successful.

“I had that ‘hell no’ moment, that ‘where are elected officials’ accountability?’ moment,” Amatul-Wadud said. “That was my youth-led moment inspired by a tragedy against children.”

She thanked the student organizers of the event, as well as the adults supporting them before opening the forum to McGovern and Vega as she headed to an event for her campaign.

“Challenge the system,” she said. “It’s your right, and it’s your future.”

Before taking questions from audience members and anonymous questions placed into a basket and passed around the audience, McGovern and Vega talked about what inspired them to become involved in politics.

McGovern talked about being inspired when he was in middle school by the challenger to incumbent President Richard Nixon in the 1970s: the similarly named, but unrelated, George McGovern.

Vega said he woke up the day after the 2016 elections feeling “shocked, but grateful to live in Massachusetts.”

Both spoke of a mixture of frustration and inspiration as the driving force behind their decisions to enter politics.

Other nationwide questions included how to fix what has become an obstructionist government in the U.S., how to change the state of racism in the U.S., and what actions can be taken to support and protect gay and transgender youth.

Both Vega and McGovern recommended that the young people pick one issue that they are most passionate about and do everything they can to be educated and involved on that issue.

Cherilyn Strader, a junior at Northampton High School and founding member of Pioneer Valley Students for Gun Control, which organized the student-led March for Our Lives last week, was in attendance to ask about gun control, her main issue right now.

She was joined by Abi Davey, a junior from Smith Academy, and two fellow NHS juniors, Taryn Morse and Sophia Marshall, also members of Pioneer Valley Students for Gun Control.

Strader chimed in during the forum with the specific name and bill number of gun legislation currently under consideration in the Statehouse when Vega responded to a question about how to make schools safer and whether there should be more school resource officers.

“See, this is what youth activism looks like,” Vega said in response.

McGovern said he openly opposes the National Rifle Association and said he would not take “blood money” from the organization. Vega also said he would not take money from gun groups.

Strader said after the forum that she came to meet other youth activists from across the Valley and that she appreciated McGovern, especially, coming to listen to student perspectives.

Davey said she was glad the politicians gave direct and respectful responses that fully answered the young people’s questions.

Marshall and Morse said they agreed.

“I think it was really cool that McGovern has an office in Northampton. I feel like he listened to us,” Marshall said. “It’s nice to have representatives who share my values.”

Among the values McGovern shared through his answers at the forum were focuses o n ending hunger, promoting peace and stopping climate change.

“Show up, speak up, act up,” McGovern told the young people. “Don’t be afraid to be troublemakers if it’s good trouble you’re making.”




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