Civic Engagement at Eastside
Most Eastside students are too young to vote, but as English teacher Stacy Arevalo notes, there are “things they can do right now to help shape our nation’s future.”
This fall, Stacy – along with civics teacher Jaya Subramanian – launched a new Civic Engagement Initiative for members of the Eastside community who want to learn more about current events and take action on issues like voter suppression, police brutality, and economic inequality.
The Civic Engagement Initiative is open to all faculty and alumni who want to join, in addition to current students, and while the teachers often plan meetings, students and alums are encouraged to take the lead, too.
Currently, a major area of focus for the Civic Engagement Initiative is the upcoming general election. Members are learning about how elections work and gaining a more in-depth knowledge of gerrymandering and other causes of voter suppression, in addition to discussing local candidates and proposals. Senior Abraham Borjorquez, who joined the initiative in part so he would feel better prepared to vote himself once he turns 18, says that he’s learned a lot about a variety of different issues, and that the initiative “has definitely been applicable to my life.”
Members of the initiative are also working with two organizations (San Francisco Peninsula People Power and Reclaim Our Vote) to increase voter turnout. They have been communicating with potential voters via text, phone calls, and letters, emphasizing the importance of voting and providing information on how to get registered and vote.
Reaching out to strangers like this can be intimidating, but also rewarding. Junior Kianne Ferrer says, “At the beginning, I was a little shy,” and admits that when she tried to make her first phone call, she panicked and immediately hung up. With practice, though, she got more comfortable and began having productive conversations with potential voters.
Abraham has been inspired by all the positive stories his peers and teachers bring back from phone and text banking. “We can actually reach people; we can make a difference,” he says.
Following the election, members of the Civic Engagement Initiative will spend some time debriefing their efforts to date and discussing the news, and then tackle new challenges. Each semester, they will focus on a different topic, such as mass incarceration, housing, immigrants’ rights, or reparations. As with the current semester’s focus on the general election, they will spend time both learning and taking action.
Although involvement in politics may feel less urgent immediately after an election, Stacy notes that there are plenty of other important issues to consider, at local, state, and national levels.
“We’re hoping civic engagement just becomes part of our school culture,” she says.