Editorial: Political service drawbacks

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Each year, rising seniors at Townsend Harris are required to do political service.  Many underclassmen are encouraged to participate as well.  Many campaign representatives came to visit history classes at THHS this past June in hopes of recruiting volunteers. Students were persuaded with not only the promise of fulfilling their political service requirements, but also with personalized letters of recommendation.  Students willingly volunteered but were quickly disappointed by the lack of structure of many of the campaigns that THHS had helped to promote.

Instead of the intended result of seniors gaining knowledge of the ways New York City politics works, most felt that their time had been wasted and, in some cases, their safety jeopardized.

Some students canvassed at night in areas far from campaign headquarters or in unsafe neighborhoods. Sometimes students would begin canvassing only to find out the area had been covered a few days before. Others were told to call voters in languages they couldn’t speak or worked long shifts at the campaign office. Some were prompted to enter buildings where soliciting was prohibited. Some weren’t in the field at all, and were thoroughly engaged in the art of data entry. By allowing these groups into our school, the administration endorsed them as good options for political service, even though students ended up having unsavory experiences there.

While THHS has no knowledge of how a campaign will be run, a political service requirement shouldn’t make students feel pressured to volunteer at these campaigns. What most juniors didn’t realize was that the contract from Participatory Democracy (a.k.a. Government) includes more potential options for political service: “Examples of acceptable political service activities are as follows: Volunteering on a campaign, or participating in a rally or protest, volunteering in a local politician’s office, volunteering for a special interest group or political action committee (PAC).”

Political service is well-intentioned and especially relevant in a place where thorough mock elections are conducted every year. However, students should never have to compromise their safety in order to complete schoolwork. If the school continues to allow campaign recruiters into the classroom, it should also educate students on what to expect while campaigning so that they can identify abnormal situations, and, if possible, background check the campaigns visiting the school.

While the school administration cannot control the actions of outside political campaigns, it has a duty to protect its students from dangerous situations with its best effort. For every student with a bad political service experience, there is a student with positive one. There are plenty of safe campaigns, but because the school endorsed campaigns that turned out to be unsafe, a larger number of THHS students ended up working elsewhere.

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