Tuesday, October 25, 2011

HELP: Silver Spring's Blair High School Students Turn to GLEE for Music Funds // Plus, Flashback to Raskin's '06 Campaign

A Maryland Juice reader contacted us on Facebook today with a plea to help out Silver Spring's Montgomery Blair High School. It turns out the popular television show Glee (yes, I do watch it) is giving away $1,000,000 to at-risk music programs, with up to $50,000 per school. They are asking students to submit videos, and those with the most votes will get a slice of the money. Montgomery Blair has the following submission. Please watch their video, vote for it (every day), and forward the link to your friends.

Vote for this video and forward it to your friends!

So why am I helping out students at a high school that I did not attend? You see, I have a strange relationship with Montgomery Blair High School, and I feel I owe it to them to help. If you've worked on a campaign in downcounty MoCo, chances are Blair Young Dems knocked doors, made calls, stuffed envelopes and helped you cross the finish line. Before they could even vote, they had our backs -- and I think loyalty demands that we stand up for them.

Here's my story, and a flashback to Senator Jamie Raskin's 2006 Democratic Primary campaign:

In 2006, when I first started working on American University law professor Jamie Raskin's upstart campaign to unseat a 30-year elected official, Blair High School students were practically the only people who stood with us from the beginning. Why? Because years before when Montgomery County wanted to censor their high school television show from airing a debate on marriage equality, Raskin stepped in to defend students' free speech rights. In their editorial endorsing him in 2006, students noted:
It was 1997, and Blair Network Communications (BNC) needed help. The organization was scrambling after the Board of Education censored an October 1996 episode of the current events show "Shades of Grey," which featured a debate about same-sex marriage. Student First Amendment rights were in question, and Jamie Raskin was the choice for legal counsel. 
Now, he's the choice for State Senate....
Raskin, a law professor at American University, discovered through his work in the "Shades of Grey" case that high school administrators were quashing the very rights they championed in their Civics classes.
When Raskin got the students' back, they returned the favor. But it was also the right thing to do and the right lesson to teach our young people. I see today that Montgomery County's intellectual legacy of defending the free flow of information is under attack today by Chairman MoCo. Now we are using taxpayer dollars to fund China-style Internet censorship. I weep.

But back to the story. After the students endorsed Raskin, the grownups made serious trouble for the students' lives. One day I'll reveal all the ugly details. The Washington Post scratched the surface at the time:
...an editorial endorsing Jamin Raskin, an American University law professor running for the Democratic nomination for state Senate in District 20, has rankled the district's longtime incumbent, Sen. Ida G. Ruben (D-Montgomery). 
Ruben said the paper's staff members failed to give her an opportunity to talk to them. Students at Silver Chips say the state senator did not respond to their requests for an interview. Now some are questioning whether high school newspapers should even be in the business of endorsing political candidates.
The same thing happened at Montgomery College, when the College Democrats endorsed Raskin and the administration officials started sending snarky emails. In no instance did the students back down at either school.

After the campaign, I returned to work at the voting rights group FairVote, and we began work on a drive to register more young adults in Maryland by allowing high school students to pre-register starting at age 16  (ie: create a uniform registration age, rather than having people calculate whether they'll be 18 by the time of the election, etc). The Blair students invited us to setup a table at their high school, and dozens of them made heart-shaped Valentines for Maryland legislators to promote the youth voter registration bill.  Progressive States Network reported:
With a vote on the final day of the Maryland legislative session and an expected governor's signature, Maryland will become the fifth state with 16-year-old youth voter pre-registration.  The bill, HB 217, is expected to create thousands of new voters and encourage participation among young people.
In the years that followed, Blair students continued to volunteer for campaigns I was working on. Indeed, Maryland Juice has a long memory. But that memory is not about knowing who your political enemies are, it is about knowing who had your back when nobody else did.

Being underage (especially if you are a minority) can be a politically powerless place. Right now, the grownups are fighting about taxes, pensions, contracts, bargaining rights, the economy, corporate welfare and anything else they can disagree on. Meanwhile, the kids soldier on and face a future of expensive college loans and few jobs. They are good kids who volunteer, who give back to the community and who even fundraise for their school when we cut their budgets. Now we are treating them like criminals -- it is the Silver Spring youths in particular, who are the target of Chairman MoCo's youth curfew.

It is not uncommon for us to try and use children to score political points -- witness the County Executive scapegoating youths with an "anti-crime" curfew proposal or Frederick County's Blaine Young using immigrant children to try and earn brownie points with the Tea Party. But amazingly in MoCo, the students aren't putting up with it and they want our help.

Ironically, Blair High School is also hosting this WEDNESDAY'S Democratic Mega-Rally. I hope many Blair students will consider sticking around after class and their activities to help steer the future of the Democratic Party. In fact, I encourage young people to FLASHMOB the rally:

With DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz
Wednesday, October 26 · 7:00 pm - 10:00 pm
Location: Montgomery Blair High School
51 University Blvd East, Silver Spring, MD

So yes, on the curfew and on the music funding contest, Maryland Juice has your back. It's the least I could do. Besides -- look at how my friends and I dressed in high school and college (see the photo below). Also note that some of the people in the photos below are now doctors, accountants, social workers, filmmakers, and more. Are these the people we are now scared of? Look closely, one of the people in the photos below is even wearing an Exeter shirt!

What lessons are we trying to teach young people in Montgomery County today?

Don't judge a book by its cover.

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