March For Our Lives Long Island, a student group pushing for tighter gun restrictions, hosted a voter engagement event Sunday afternoon designed to get their peers to the polls for the mid-term elections in November.
About 50 people attended the “Midterms 2018 Youth Kick Off” panel discussion on how young people can get involved in political campaigns and causes. Representatives from the state Working Families and Democratic parties, Huntington’s Young Democrats and progressive groups such as TASC, or Taking Action Suffolk County, Swing Left and Bend the ARC: Jewish Action, gave tutorials to the young people who gathered in an office space for about two hours on a sunny, warm Sunday afternoon.
“We have the energy, we have the drive, but what we really need is the knowledge and the tools to take that drive and use it in a way that’s going to be productive,” said Avalon Fenster, 16, the founder and lead organizer of March For Our Lives Long Island and a sophomore at The Stony Brook School. “It’s beyond just the singular issue of gun reform but also covering a broader issue of voter turnout.”
The young activists on Long Island said they are gearing up not only to make an impact on gun control via the midterms elections but to foster greater involvement by millennials in grassroots and electoral politics. Already, they said, their members voted in April’s special election that saw former Suffolk County Legis. Steve Stern become the first Democrat in 40 years to represent the 10th Assembly District in Huntington – texting selfies at the polls.
The meeting came just two days after 10 people were shot and killed at a high school in Santa Fe, Texas.
Darryl St. George, a Navy veteran who ran unsuccessfully for Huntington Town supervisor, called for a moment of silence in honor of the Texas victims.
“These are dark times that we are living in when you see what’s happening in these classrooms but I, at the end of the day, have faith, because out of this tragedy, what has sprung from this tragedy is you getting involved,” St. George told the students. “And you give me great hope, and I want to thank you.”
March For Our Lives Long Island, with more than 2,000 members from some 60 schools across Long Island, was born of a similar tragedy, the February killing of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman High School in Parkland, Florida. The massive march on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. that followed the shooting, as well as demonstrations in Manhattan, on Long Island and in communities across the country, spawned a network of student activism nationwide.
Max Robins, 18, who runs the group’s legislative and political activities, said it has already helped register more than 200 young people to vote and has held a forum with Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove).
“Unless we keep on doing this, these tragedies are going to keep on happening,” said Robins, a senior at Huntington High School.
Cheryl Blum, a longtime Huntington resident and activist, said she forsees young people becoming a real force in electoral politics.
“They’re scared to death of what’s going on,” said Blum, 69.