Teaming up to talk politics

Olivia C., Managing Editor

The Political Activists and Human Rights clubs have joined forces to meet with State Senator James Gaughran and Former New York Representative, Steve Israel, via Zoom, in order to discuss various political and human rights issues affecting Long Island and the United States.

Junior Stephen G., president of both clubs, initiated conversations with the politicians and invited them to speak with Commack students. He first researched policies and legislation of local politicians whom he expected to be valuable for students to meet with. 

Because he had background knowledge on both Gaughran and Israel’s careers, it was an obvious choice for Stephen to contact their offices. As the Political Activists and Human Rights clubs had never met with any previous figures, it was important to the advisors that Gaughran and Israel were locally based. 

“When we talk politics, most students want to talk about the men and women on Capitol Hill, in Washington DC. However, it is the local congressmen that can bring about change that we can see on our own backyards. Local congressmen understand the challenges being from Long Island and being a New Yorker. They can relate to us,” said Political Activists adviser Dr. Michael Jeziorski. 

Not only was the idea of ‘zooming’ with politicians a new concept, but so was forging the two clubs together for this event. Both clubs examine ideas regarding current event issues that members find significant. Similarly, both incorporate elements of politics in their meetings; whether that be a debate over specific policies of political parties in the Political Activist Club or a conversation about how politics interferes with humanitarian issues in the Human Rights Club. Many of these overlapping aspects ultimately prompted them to merge. 

“I knew Senator Gaughran’s role as a long-time local official and Congressman Israel’s leadership roles in the House would make them of value for the Political Activists Club. It was their fights and campaigns they chose to take on such as gun control, environmental protection and gay rights that steered me towards including the Human Rights Club in the meeting, as well,” said Stephen G. 

Students submitted any questions they had for the politicians ahead of the interviews. Stephen G. and his fellow executive board members reviewed each one determining what was appropriate to ask and how best to format the questions, to make a cohesive list for the guests. A crucial aspect of planning involved emailing Gaughran and Israel the students’ questions before the Zoom calls. This ensured that the Senator and Representative were both aware of the topics that were going to be addressed and would come prepared with specific talking points. 

By answering everyone’s questions, the guests were able to discuss their viewpoints on events unfolding across America. They taught students about their experiences in politics, along with certain campaigns or policies of theirs on pressing issues. For example, Israel mentioned his work in helping the fishing and farming industry on Long Island. Gaughran also explained legislation he passed regarding food waste and shared his stance on the importance of diversifying curriculum taught in Long Island schools.

“The biggest thing that I got out of both Congressmen is their genuine care for Long Island. Both men were in touch with the everyday challenges of being a Long Islander,” said Jeziorski. 

Despite their vast knowledge on politics, itself, both guest speakers also opened up about personal aspects of their careers.

“I’ve always believed the most important aspect of politics is the personal element, and the experiences and values that are produced from it,” said Stephen G. 

Representative Israel explained his relationship with former President, George Bush and stressed the value in his connections between himself, a Democrat, and many of his peers, who were Republicans. Coincidentally, Robert F. Kennedy, one of America’s most notable politicians of the 60s, inspired both Israel and Gaughran to pursue politics as a career from a young age. Along with these anecdotes, they also offered advice to students who aspire for a career in politics or human rights work.

“Senator Gaughran strongly advised us to first delve into potential careers that interest us, specifically through internships. Congressman Israel highlighted the value of reading, and ever-growing access to information,” said Stephen G. 

The advisers of each club concurred the benefits in getting a glimpse into the careers and everyday work of two New York politicians. 

“I hope students were made more aware of issues in the local community and world, and thought about ways they can contribute positively to society. I also hope that if public service interests them, they now have some ideas and inspiration for starting down that path,” said Human Rights Club adviser Derek Pope. 

Since it was the first time the clubs had met with anyone, the format of solely question and answer worked well as a model for any future meetings with other leaders or prominent figures in the community. However, they are hoping to incorporate further discussion and interaction with guests, such as asking follow up questions or focusing on one topic, rather than multiple, in order to generate more specific questions.

“We want to hear more about students’ reactions at future meetings, and use the [interviews] as  springboards for deeper discussion on some of the issues raised, as the club membership sees fit,” said Pope.

Jeziorski even pointed out that he expects his club members to be able to bring up topics from the Gaughran and Israel interviews when debating certain issues.

Overall, both clubs were honored to have had the opportunity to meet a current and former elected official of the United States government. 

“It is important for our students to realize that at one point in time, both of these men were high school students. If you remain focused, you can reach their level too,” said Jeziorski.🔳