PGHS Political Awareness


Photo credits to Getty Images

image credits: Huffington Post

Written by Luke Herzog

The 2014 elections sported a historically low voter turnout among young voters. Data shows that only 19.9% of 18 to 29-year-olds cast ballots. This statistic leads to the question — how politically aware are students at PGHS? And, more importantly, what issues are students passionate about? I set out to find the answer, interviewing individuals of different ages and political outlooks.


My first interviewee was Max Afifi, a freshman and son of science teacher Marc Afifi.


Luke: Hi Max, thanks for agreeing to this. I’ll just launch right into it — as a student, which political issues matter to you?


Max: Well, I truly care about climate change as it is one of the most pressing issues of our time.


Luke: Climate change? Bah! Why bother? (facetious)


Max: It really bothers me that people choose to deny this scientifically proven fact. Many people may deny it out of fear of what is to come, but if we are to have a hospitable world to live in, we must get something done to fix the ever-rising levels of CO2 in the air. Otherwise, we will single handedly be responsible for the next mass extinction. Some say we already are.


Luke: Voter turnout is low among young voters. Would you say students at our school are politically aware?


Max: I would say that some students don’t care at all and others are very politically aware. For example, I know people who have strong feelings for the political outcome of elections and the passing of bills, etcetera, but just will not go out in vote.


Luke: Why is voting important?


Max: Voting is important because it is a right denied to many people around the world. And the people who are given the opportunity to have a say in what goes on in their country should take advantage of the option.


Luke: Thanks, Max.


Max: No problem.


Next, I interviewed Steven Kellogg, a sophomore.


Luke: Hey, Steven. Thanks for consenting to this interview. Right, here we go. My first question: As a student, what political issues matter to you?


Steven: I feel that talk about the GOP and our situation with paying for college are large topics of conversation, along with the destruction of the first amendment under the guise of political correctness.


Luke: Would you mind elaborating on political correctness?


Steven: Borderline Orwellian levels of censorship, with the lie that “every person’s feelings matter.” Creating an environment where creativity dies, and the loud, ugly truth of the world must be dumbed down, softened, or even forgotten because of the hypersensitive feelings of a bunch of children who think the world is a liberal arts college campus, where you can just tell on anyone you disagree with, calling them harassers, racists, or sexists.


Luke: You mentioned “dumbing down.” Would you say this kind of behavior is perpetrated on all sides of the political spectrum? Some would argue that the Republicans have actively denied overwhelming scientific evidence in regards to environmental issues for example.


Steven: Of course. A lot of people on all sides of the political spectrum seem to deny facts, including global warming. Both liberal and conservative viewpoints are saturated with overconfidence and also statistics.


Luke: Very interesting. Voter turnout is low among young voters. Would you say students at our school are politically aware?


Steven: Not at all. Most fellow students rarely care about politics, going towards Trump or Bernie Sanders because they’re “funny” or say one or two things their parents like. It’s really sad that students can’t simply research for themselves.


Luke: Ok, thanks for taking the time Steven.


Steven: My pleasure.


Next up was junior Camden Smithtro, revered Newsbreaker editor (and I’m not just saying that to score points in the school newspaper, that’s for sure).


Luke: Hi Cammy. As a student, what political issues matter to you?


Camden: Probably social and civil issues mostly — abortion and LGBT and women’s rights — as it’s harder for me to understand the more intricate financial or foreign policy situation for our country without having really been taught about that yet. However, a lot of social issues being debated in the upcoming election do affect me directly, so I do care.


Luke: Care to elaborate anywhere?


Camden: For sure. I feel pretty strongly about the accessibility of abortion and Planned Parenthood, which is becoming a pretty intense political topic, because I don’t think it’s right for other people — mostly male politicians — to control women’s bodies. If you think that abortion is wrong, don’t get one. But nobody should have the right to stop other women from making their own choices about their bodies.


Luke: My only other question — how politically aware would you say students at PGHS are?


Camden: Hmmm… good question. I think that students at PGHS are fairly politically aware, however how much of that awareness is shaped by their own views versus them restating their parents or the views of the media they consume remains to be seen.


Luke: Thanks for the help, Cammy.


Finally, I interviewed Maggie Lindenthal-Cox, a senior. She made certain that I mention that she doesn’t claim to be the utmost authority on everything she said, and apologizes if she made any factually incorrect statements.


Luke: Hi there, Maggie. Thanks for agreeing to this. So… as a student, which political issues matter to you?


Maggie: I’d have to say the issues that matter most to me are women’s rights, LGBT rights, gun control, decreasing the cost of universities, and income inequality.


Luke: Would you care to elaborate on any of the issues?


Maggie: I’ll start with university tuition because it’s a cause that will impact a large percentage of students here.


Luke: Certainly.


Maggie: The thing about tuition is that we aren’t in the same economy we were in 20 to 30 years ago. Before, you could just get a job over the summer and maybe a part-time one during the school year and graduate debt free. So that’s what the older generations are telling us to do. “Just get a job,” they say. Well it doesn’t work like that anymore. Getting a summer and part-time job would barely make a dent in the high tuition costs of universities today.


Luke: What’s your personal experience been when it comes to jobs?


Maggie: I work a part-time minimum wage job, which means I make about $200 a week. Sounds like a lot. Well, not when you compare it to the over $60,000 I have to pay for tuition and fees for my education. I would have to work for 300 weeks just to cover the whole tuition. That’s 5.7 years of a part-time minimum wage job. And that doesn’t include additional costs of basic living. So that means I’ll have long since graduated before I pay off one year of college. Multiply $60,000 by the four years that most students attend universities, and you get $240,000 in tuition and fees. That would take 23 years!


Luke: And what political proposals might remedy the situation?


Maggie: Well, making college affordable would, in my opinion, include making community college free, so that the option for higher education is available to everyone. This would also force universities to lower prices in competition with the free community colleges.


Luke: How about we transition to another topic. How about LGBT and/or women’s rights?


Maggie: Ah, of course. There is a huge problem in America, and frankly, the world right now with misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia.


Luke: Now saying “LGBT rights” is a very broad term, and in 2015 the United States took bold strides in this area. What additional steps need to be taken?


Maggie: Well, I’m going to tie in gun control if you don’t mind. 50% of women are raped/experience sexual assault. Gay men are also 70% more likely to be raped/experience sexual assault than straight men, and lesbians are 80-85% more likely to be raped/experience sexual assault than straight women. Transgender people have an average lifespan of 32. Over 365 people of color were shot in America in 2015. Gun control is a serious issue. In all states except California, it is legal to use the Gay Panic Defense, or the Transgender Panic Defense. These laws basically state that a defendant was so shocked to discover a person was gay/trans that they killed the person. It is imperative to understand this: in 49 states, it is legal to KILL a person because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. This is a MAJOR ISSUE, one which is not at all helped by the astonishing lack of gun control in our country.


Luke: Many would also say that the fact that many states allow gay individuals to be fired from their jobs just because their sexual orientation is also a major problem. Care to comment?


Maggie: In my opinion, the steps we need to take to help our country solve the severe problem it now faces is to: a) increase gun control to protect groups from becoming gun victims, b) nullify the Gay/Trans Panic Defense Laws, c) provide protection/aid for victims of sexual assault as it is a pervasive issue in this country, and d) get rid of laws that allow people to persecute others on any basis, including religious ones. I believe firmly in freedom of religion, until the moment that religion is used to suppress an entire group of people. I also believe in the separation of church and state, which holds that religious views have no basis in government, and vice versa.


Luke: Well said. I believe that leaves income inequality and taxes on the wealthy?


Maggie: Here’s the thing: if you’re wealthy you should have to pay more money. It’s as simple as that. And many people argue that these wealthy 1% are going to use their money to hire people at their businesses. And while I’m sure there is truth to that, it isn’t the whole picture. For people like Steve Jobs, it isn’t worth their time to turn around a pick $100 up off the street. People like that can definitely afford a higher tax percentage. Also, I believe we should cut taxes on people below the poverty line, which we can compensate with a graduated tax on the 1%.


Luke: Thank you. That’s plenty already, but I have a final question: Voter turnout among young voters has always been low. How politically aware would you say PGHS students are?


Maggie: As a general rule, I would say PGHS students are pretty politically aware. Our government classes actively encourage voter registration, and offer extra credit for watching political debates. I even have to debate myself in my government class. And while they may not all be completely educated, many PGHS students have a desire to become educated and involved, which is equally important.


Luke: Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions Maggie.


Maggie: Thank you.


And there you have it. Four different PGHS students, all of different grades. There appears to be some difference in opinion when it comes to the political awareness of our peers, but one thing is certain — political issues and causes matter to young people. So if you can register to vote, register. Young voters can sway an election.