Rivertown Teens Talk Politics and Engagement

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by Charlene Weigel – 

You see something on social media. You look at it more. You get riled up, and want to take action,” said Emma Sylves-Berry, a senior at Sleepy Hollow High School. “Now, more than ever, students are involved.”

With Jamie Kramer, a junior at Dobbs Ferry High School, Sylves-Berry will travel to Albany in May to get involved with state legislators. They will represent rivertown teens at “Students Inside Albany,” a four-day workshop sponsored by the New York State League of Women Voters. With 60 students from around the state, they will learn how to shape and enact state policies.

Kramer and Sylves-Berry shared some thoughts on politics and youth engagement.

How did you become interested in politics?

Kramer: Sometimes teenagers feel as if politics and being a teen don’t mix, but the issues being debated in the public sphere are relevant to our everyday lives. Living in this area, we have great connections but there are a lot of people who don’t have a voice. It is important to stand up for people who have different backgrounds.

Sylves-Berry: With previous elections, I was content to trust what was going on. That’s changed. I’m in our AP Government class. One posing question is “Who is really in control of the government?” We started with state versus federal. Then interest groups versus the media. Most recently we learned about the bureaucracy. It’s fun to see what my peers think. How government itself functions.

Where do you get your information?

Kramer: Social media is a huge place. But with Facebook, algorithms are likely to reinforce your pre-existing beliefs. So it is important to branch out. To educate myself. Because there are many different beliefs on the same matter.

Sylves-Berry: My first source every morning is theSkimm email blog. Tells me what happened over the past 24 hours. And what people will be talking about. I come home after track, eat a snack and watch John Oliver or Stephen Colbert recap the news. About half my senior class have notifications turned on so they get alerts on their phones when something happens.

Are you aware that some towns allow 16-year-olds to vote in local elections?

Sylves-Berry: No. I’d be hesitant to say for federal elections, but it’s a good idea for local elections. If you don’t involve students before they are 18, they are probably going to be less involved because they never get into the habit of voting.

Kramer: I hadn’t heard that. There are many kids who are interested but not technically represented. We talked in history class about what constitutes being represented. Obviously, no one has to vote if they are 16, but what if they are really driven?

Are there challenges to getting involved?

Kramer: The recent horrible shootings have impacted my generation. People I would have never expected are engaged. Sometimes it seems that, living in a small town, nothing I do will be recognized. But seeing people being taken seriously is super-inspiring.

Sylves-Berry: The other day my mom and dad walked to the voting place. They were numbers 12 and 13 to vote. And it was 5:30 p.m. If people learn how to vote and we make it clear when these elections are happening, more people would get involved.

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