High School Progressive Action Conference Encourages Student-Driven Political Activism

The Phillips Academy Democrats organized and hosted Andover’s first ever Progressive Action Conference last Saturday. The nonpartisan conference focused on political activism and how students can get involved in the future of America’s politics. 

Miriam Feldman ’18, co-president of the PA Democrats, said, “Our goal was to make people see the way they can turn their ideas and their passions into a real action and change in the world. We focused on speakers and guests who have a history of being able to translate their political ideas and social agendas into real tangible change because I think that’s the goal of a lot of people here, but sometimes we don’t always know the means, or the steps that we need to take to achieve them,”

Dan Schwerin ’00, former speechwriter for Hillary Clinton, opened the conference with a speech about his introduction to politics and his experience working in such a prominent position for Clinton at such a young age. He also answered student questions about his experience in politics.

A panel consisting of Schwerin, Cambridge City Councilor Nadeem Mazen ’02, Instructor in English Corrie Martin, and Lincoln Chafee ’77, former Senator, Governor, and Democratic candidate in the recent presidential election, answered questions from both the PA Democrats board and the audience. The questions covered topics around the electoral college, Donald Trump, and socio-economic issues in the Democratic party.

PA Democrats member Anlan Du ’18 said in an email to The Phillipian, “We really wanted to choose guests who came from different backgrounds and encompassed the entire left side of the political spectrum. This brought some really fantastic clash to the panel: Nadeem, for instance, took a pretty hard-line progressive stance which often clashed with Dan, who obviously represented Hillary and the mainstream Democratic Party,”

“Meanwhile, Lincoln, having been both a Republican and an Independent in the past, brought in ideas from those parts of the political spectrum. Corrie, too, was a fantastic presence, as she brought in a focus on diversity and education. So ultimately, we ended up not with an echo chamber but with some really great contrasting viewpoints for the audience to mull over,” she continued.

Schwerin stressed the importance of having young people involved in politics, despite challenges. He specifically cited examples from the Women’s March and what happened in airports around the Muslim ban and healthcare. 

“The election was incredibly disappointing, but I hope we can channel that disappointment into increased grassroots energy, as we’re already seeing around the country. Especially for young people, it’s so important not to get discouraged but instead get energized,” said Schwerin in an email to The Phillipian.

Chafee spoke about the false dichotomy that emerges when political beliefs are divided between two parties, which provoked discussion about the defining characteristics of the Democratic party and the increasing separation between the public and the government.

The panelists also talked about the path to effective activism, highlighting how activism is an integral part of participating in a society, and therefore necessary for change.

“By one estimate, there are more than one million groups and orgs currently engaged in some form of social justice activism in the world today…all engaged in different kinds of actions and approaches to these problems. It’s a much more exciting, vibrant and open way of thinking about progressivism and political action,” said Martin in an email to The Phillipian.

“Small groups (4-5 people) can make a huge impact on the issues they care most about, with just a few minutes of consistent organizing practice per day… We must exert control as tomorrow’s leaders and voters to protect and support America’s crumbling middle class and forgotten working class,” said Mazen in an email to The Phillipian.

When asked about how this conference will affect the Andover community, Junah Jang ’20, who attended the conference, said, “In part thanks to the talk, I’ll be thinking a lot more about my political priorities and how to learn from the opinions of people here on campus. Hopefully, we can get to a point where we’re able to have productive conversations across differing viewpoints concerning the improvement of this campus, country, and ultimately the wellbeing of all people.”

“Hopefully this conference will be a unifier. We sent our invitational email to PARS, the PA Republican Society. And we hope that the messages and the lessons learned from these speakers are going to be applicable to those involved regardless of different political backgrounds or affiliations, and that ultimately we will come away from this having learned as a community, not just based on Democrat or Republican beliefs,” said Matthew Cline ’19, board member of the PA Democrats Board.