The political divide
October 25, 2020
Advocating for action
Students get directly involved in politics as election day approaches
Before this year, high school students most likely avoided political conversations with family at the dinner table that spark either boredom or controversy. But now, as the 2020 elections approach, many have become more outspoken even though they may not be old enough to vote. There are other ways, as they have found, to partake in politics.
“I’d say it’s an important civic duty to pay attention to local, state and national races and get read up on the issues of the time to be an informed citizen,” junior Sebastian Fernandez said. “If you really believe that a person could make a serious difference in your community, it’s a good idea to get involved and help out.”
Fernandez started to get more active this year by interning for the Patricia Sigman campaign. Sigman is a Democrat running for Florida State Senate, District Nine, against Republican candidate Jason Brodeur. As an intern, Fernandez promotes public awareness through activities such as phone banking and sign waving.
“I really believe [Sigman] can make a difference… to make Florida a better state for everyone,” Fernandez said.
Senior Tai Markman also volunteers weekly with the Seminole County Democratic Party. Markman found the opportunity through her own research, and thinks it is a “great opportunity” to stay engaged.
A lot of students find that gaining enthusiasm for particular candidates helps to improve advocacy overall; sharing views with a prominent figure can motivate more people to show their support. At events such as political rallies, for example, people get a chance to listen directly to what the candidate has to say and form a better opinion on them.
President Donald Trump is known for hosting rallies nationwide. In 2016, senior CJ Ellis attended one of Trump’s rallies at the CFE Arena in UCF, mostly out of curiosity.
“Although [he] wasn’t my ideal candidate, the energy there was incredible,” Ellis said. “I could really tell people were enthusiastic about voting for Trump. It was almost like a party.”
The public reception for both presidential candidates, both positive and negative, has grown to be overwhelming in students’ eyes. Most can attest to the “Trump 2020” or “Biden 2020” masks, car magnets and lawn signs seen everywhere, and they seem to symbolize the prominence this election has taken within everyone’s lives.
Senior Blake Watts is conscious of the increasing tension between Trump and Biden supporters, and it has affected how much he is willing to express about his thoughts on the candidates — even going to discourage him from attending the Trump rally in Sanford on Oct. 12.
“I was swayed against going because of the risk of potentially dangerous situations… Trump rallies typically attract both positive and negative attention,” Watts said.
In spite of the hype surrounding the presidential race, Markman feels that it has overshadowed local elections. She believes the best way to remain politically engaged to stay as informed as possible on all levels.
“People underestimate the impact local candidates have on our everyday lives,” Markman said. “By being aware of what is going on, this motivates me to do whatever I can to help fight injustice and fight for equality.”
The rise in involvement in this year alone has gone to show how the minimum age for voting does not hinder students. Though not yet able to legally register for a party, Ellis considers himself an Independent. He is fascinated by politics and emphasizes the importance of all people educating themselves as much as they can.
“At some point, I will be old enough to vote… so I’d like to be informed now to prepare me for the future,” Ellis said. “Being able to express your voice in this country and contribute to a cause is a privilege that I don’t want to squander.”
Social media is a platform for students to partake in political discourse
When youthful exuberance, a wifi connection and a desire to change the country come together, it creates a passionate political climate. In the past, many students have been hesitant to align themselves with certain beliefs, but this election year transformed the political scene among teenagers. Teens are more enthusiastic than ever to pronounce their own positions, as well as sway undecided individuals.
Crucial to this process is social media. Amid the many targeted ads, students interact with their peers and connections, who often share their opinions.
Junior Julia Squitteri uses Instagram to encourage the people around her to volunteer with the Florida Democratic Party, as well as to share information about the politicians she backs, especially presidential candidate Joe Biden.
“I think it is important to advocate, but [also] to inform rather than to solely talk about one’s political opinion,” Squitteri said. “So many people vote for candidates who work against their interests due to the spread of misinformation, so it’s more important than ever to educate.”
Social media accounts are guilty of spreading such “fake news,” often completely by accident. In a study done by Statistica in 2019, 52% of people have shared false information online.
This statistic is one junior Reagan Eastlick understands the importance of.
“I try to educate myself on everything that I say before I say it. Everyone has a right to speak, but it would be better if people spoke about what they knew, and if they don’t know about it, if they learned,” Eastlick said.
Eastlick, however, knows the price of sharing this information online. The Pew Research Center reports as of 2017 four out of 10 Americans experience some form of online harassment, and Eastlick falls into that demographic. He has received countless threats since he began expressing his conservative views more openly. As a firm Republican Trump supporter, they do not seem to be going away.
“I would get terrible threats against myself and my family,” Eastlick said.
Junior Joshua Nemery is a staunch Biden supporter and knows this feeling well. Participating in online debates have
contributed to Nemery’s political experience.
“Whenever someone does disagree with me I try to hear them out,” Nemery said. “When things devolve into absurdity I start to ignore them.”
Nemery got into an argument over the right to abortion in his direct messages on Instagram.
“I felt kind of disappointed. I went through all that effort to explain to him my viewpoint, and he wouldn’t even consider it. He just said ‘no’ and nothing else,” Nemery said.
Nemery makes frequent political tweets covering all sorts of topics, one of the most prominent being his disdain for injustice in the current political system.
“For too long, lots of people have been… completely ignored by our government. These deep-seeded discrepancies trace back to the roots of how the system works,” Nemery said.
Junior Olivia Tulloch has also received pushback when defending her views on social inequality. When adding her own commentary to Instagram posts, Tulloch is not afraid to deal with the backlash.
“I mostly post things against racism, sexism and homophobia. If you want to flood my dm’s with threats… against those things, that says more about you than it does me.”
Of course, political activism is not for everyone, and the majority of students will not be able to vote for a president until the 2024 election. In the meantime, people will likely continue sharing their views online until the internet itself dies out.
“I just personally [share] because it’s a part of who I am and it’s something I’m interested in, but people don’t have to,” Tulloch said. “However, if you are silent on your morals, that’s a lack of character. Politics is one thing, basic human decency is another.”