Make A Change With Mikva!
by Sophie Lee
Once again, Northside is participating in the Mikva Challenge, a Chicago-based organization that is in many high schools. The aim is to get students involved in democracy and become more politically active. The club spends the year working on action projects that promote political awareness within Northside. They also help connect students with political campaigns so they can get more hands-on experience.
When J.C. Strzalka-Steil, class of 2015, attended Northside, he spent the majority of his time in Mikva club campaigning. In fact, Strzalka-Steil first gained experience on a campaign in eighth grade. He said that his keen interest in politics began after Obama was first elected in 2008. The passion for politics stayed with him through high school and he is now studying political science at DePaul University. He is also the field director for Jesse Garfinkel, who is campaigning to become an Illinois state representative. By speaking at Northside, Strzalka-Steil hoped to recruit students as volunteers for Garfinkel’s campaign.
During Mr. Mallon’s X-block on Wednesday, Sept. 4, Strzalka-Steil described Garfinkel as a progressive liberal who became motivated to run after seeing how the state budget was negatively affecting schools. In Chicago, schools are funded through property taxes. This means that schools in more affluent cities and suburbs will receive more funding while those in poorer areas will likely end up underfunded. This method has been highly criticized as it leaves those who need more money with less.
As a state representative, Garfinkel would be able to work on issues such as how federal dollars are distributed (including for education), social issue laws, and other local concerns. Garfinkel’s campaign is entirely grassroots funded, meaning he takes no contributions from corporations or special interest donations. Running a campaign this way means Garfinkel will not have to compromise on his political beliefs to please those funding him. However, it also means Garfinkel’s budget is lower and the campaign needs more volunteers to compensate for the limited paid staff.
“We have the most to gain from getting involved in politics nowadays,” said Strzalka-Steil when asked why it is so important for young people to become active participants. He went on to explain that the political choices made now will affect younger generations more than those making the policies simply because younger generations will be the ones living with the consequences. If young people choose to wait to become politically active until they are older, the damage could already be done. Strzalka-Steil pointed out, “Politics is how we decide what type of society we want to live in.” According to him, working on a campaign is one of the best ways to start making proactive decisions about the future.
Currently, Garfinkel’s campaign is in the petition stage and looking to recruit students to be fellows. This means you would be in charge of other volunteers, build relationships with voters, and help get the word out about the campaign. The requirements to become a fellow call for someone who will be dedicated to the cause and willing to learn new skills. Fellows would also have to work a minimum of 15 hours a week. Strzalka-Steil says that even for those who are not interested in entering politics full time, working on a campaign will help you develop invaluable social and organizational skills.
If 15 hours a week seems like too big a commitment Strzalka-Steil guarantees that they will be able to work around your schedule and find work for you with whatever time you can offer. The majority of the work volunteers are doing now is canvassing. This means that they go door to door or make phone calls to spread information about Garfinkel’s campaign.
If there is another campaign you would like to join, students can contact Mikva’s downtown office on Michigan Ave. to see what opportunities are out there. Students can also join Northside’s own Mikva Club to work on their action projects and find other ways to become politically active. The club meets every Wednesday during X Block and interested students can sign up for Mr. Mallon’s block through Student Scheduler because Mikva is always looking to get more students involved.