By Rebecca C and Dallas G
In July, editor Rebecca C interviewed Saul F, one of the youngest and most dedicated members of NYC–DSA. What follows is an edited version of that conversation, which was carried out in email exchanges. Some of Rebecca’s questions were folded into Saul’s answers for brevity and ease of reading, and some of Saul’s responses were similarly combined . . .
Saul is 13 years old and about to enter ninth grade. He met Rebecca this spring at the Brooklyn Working Families Party (WFP) headquarters when he and a friend joined her to assemble poll site information for door hangers.
When she realized Saul and his friend were volunteering on their own — and not on the orders of their parents — “I was blown away,” says Rebecca, a young mother herself. So, too, were many of us at Red Letter — blown away and very much encouraged. That’s the genesis of Rebecca’s recent interview with this remarkable youngster, a happy harbinger, by his telling, of the generations to come.
RC: Have other people been surprised to see someone so young volunteering in a campaign? Or, is this common, something I’m not aware of?
SF: “Many people are surprised. I’ve been involved in political action for a little while and I’ve grown up in a fairly political family.
“My great-grandmother was a Socialist and part of the Young People's Socialist League (YPSL). In the 1930s, she attended Commonwealth College [According to Wikipedia, this visionary socialist school in Mena, Arkansas, trained organizers for the labor movement and to lead “socio-economic reform for a new and different society.” Eleanor Roosevelt visited there in 1937.]
“When I was eight, my parents enrolled me in the Midtown Workmen’s Circle School, a secular Jewish Sunday school where Yiddish, activism, and Jewish history are taught. At the MWCS, [we] got to meet Jorel Ware, a ‘Fight for $15’ leader, talk about that fight and his experiences as a fast food worker and then protest alongside him. We met Florida farm workers, too, . . . and [discussed] their fight for better pay and working conditions and protested alongside them as well.
“I’ve seen other young people, mostly high schoolers, canvassing and interning on campaigns, but there could definitely be more youth involvement in DSA and progressive political campaigns.
“In my generation, many of us care about a variety of issues, especially climate change and gun control. [Many of us] re-post political memes and articles and express our outrage at current events. Most of my peers know about politics, especially national politics. We want to see the President impeached, climate change fought, immigrants able to live with dignity, and sensible gun control measures.”
RC: What do you feel is the difference between socialism and the Democratic party that makes you want to support DSA candidates?
SF: “The difference is that DSA candidates and progressive candidates have a real vision for what they want to see. They want . . . genuine justice, a society where everyone can live with dignity. DSA candidates mostly come from backgrounds of organizing and activism, of personal struggle, and of standing up to systems that are oppressive and abusive. DSA candidates aren’t corporate lobbyists, party bosses, or anything of the sort. They are authentic and passionate about fighting for the people.”
RC: Your work as a political volunteer would be impressive for anyone but certainly for someone so young. Could you describe some of what you have been doing for NYC–DSA in the past couple of years — since you were ten or eleven years old, that is?
SF: “[I attended] five Bernie rallies in the run-up to the 2016 New York Democratic presidential primary. That was how I became interested in electoral politics and, after that, I began to get more involved. During the 2017–’18 election cycle, I canvassed for Julia Salazar (NYS Senate), for the Cynthia Nixon/Jumaane Williams/Zephyr Teachout ticket (for governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general, respectively), for Andrew Gounardes (NYS Senate), and for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez before her primary victory. I also did data entry for her campaign last fall and volunteered for the NYC–DSA’s Brooklyn Electoral Working Group Research Committee, where I helped write dossiers for districts.”
In addition to that formidable litany, Saul’s political engagement has continued into the 2018–’19 electoral cycle, especially for the campaigns of Tiffany Cabán and Jumaane Williams.
Saul supported and helped out on Jumaane Williams’ rebound campaign to replace Letitia James for public advocate by joining the Working Families Party’s Texting Team to send out “thousands of text messages in support of Williams’ candidacy,” Saul notes. “I also stopped by the campaign office to help out by making stacks of literature, cutting maps, and doing office work.”
His support for Tiffany Cabán’s candidacy for Queens D.A. has been even more extensive. “I worked with DSA’s Electoral Research Committee to investigate the records of one of her opponents, Council Member Rory Lancman, on criminal justice issues when he served on the State Assembly’s Judiciary and Codes Committees.
“I . . . [also helped] write the text-banking script for Cabán’s persuasion texting. The WFP’s Texting Team used it to identify her supporters. I marched in Queens Pride with her, canvassed a few times, and did a little data entry as well.”
RC: If you could wave a magic wand (and make Cuomo and de Blasio disappear, haha) what do you think would make this city a better place for all of us? And do you see yourself living here as an adult?
SF: “I can’t see myself living anywhere else when I am an adult. New York City has this energy and community and diversity that I don’t think exists anywhere else. If I could wave a magic wand, there’s a lot I would do, but I would begin by taking aggressive steps to stop climate change, implementing campaign finance reform and making government as a whole more transparent.”
RC: What do your parents think about all the campaign work you’ve been doing? They must be really proud.
SF: “They’re happy about the work I do! However, because of my height and my age, I can’t canvass or protest alone, and they don’t like having to accompany me every time I want to go canvassing or protests — which is often!”
RC: What do you think the most important political issues are for you and for your peers, if you could speak for them?
SF: “Climate justice and gun control. Our lives literally depend on these two issues. Many kids at my school participated in the climate strikes earlier this year and the gun control walkouts in 2018.
“It’s hard for me to pinpoint the most important political issues for me — every issue is important. Each one needs to be addressed because of how they impact people’s lives.
“With the experience I’ve gained so far in helping campaigns out in their final stretches, I want to participate in campaigns early on. I want to help develop the messaging, the policy, and the strategy.
“I think that it is important that, if NYC-DSA wants more youth to get more involved, working groups make a real effort to hold meetings & celebrations in spaces accessible to young people (for example: not in bars) so that young people aren’t excluded from doing DSA work and they can celebrate successes they have worked for.”