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Student activists stand strong in 2020 election

Sandwich High School students stand outside the driveway of Oak Ridge School in East Sandwich, Mass and greet voters as they drive to the polls. (Jack Murray/Ithaca Week)

EAST SANDWICH, MA — In February of 2019 Michael Murphy, a student at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, was blocked by Ron Beaty, the Barnstable County Commissioner, on Twitter. Murphy would soon find out he wasn’t alone in this.

Twitter users who were blocked by Barnstable County Commissioner Ron Beaty connected with each other through the hashtag #BlockedByBeaty (Jack Murray/Ithaca Week)

“I responded to one of his tweets, where he just said some off-the-charts wacky tweet about some marginalized group of people,” Murphy said. “Me being blocked spiraled into the local #blockedbyBeaty movement.”

Murphy, as well as many other young student voters and activists, stayed involved in the 2020 elections in southern Massachusetts despite a global pandemic that made organizing and campaigning more difficult than ever before.

Murphy, who is also enlisted in the Massachusetts Air National Guard, said he and his colleagues turned to social media for information about local and national elections, as well as to help people learn the process of using an absentee ballot.

“It was pretty much known how that there is the potential that it was going to be very difficult to vote in person, or rather it was just going to be not safe to vote in person,” Murphy said. “So it was about spreading information, making sure people knew they could request a mail-in ballot or that the polls were actually going to be open for two weeks prior to actual Election Day.”

Joe Pasquale, another student at UMASS Amherst, has also taken to social media to spread political awareness.

“Social media has become this tool that has more of our awareness, since we’re all trapped in the house,” Pasquale said. “Everybody is more of an active participant in this election because it is so heated. Talking about these things in your social circles and thereby sharing it on social media, which is now the extended way we communicate with our social circles in the time of the pandemic is increasingly important because I want to inform my friends of what’s actually going on.”

Pasquale said social media allows students to get involved in all forms of political activity while still staying socially distant and safe during the pandemic.

“I mean I wouldn’t say really outside of social media that we’re doing anything specifically special but this whole election cycle has contributed to all of us just being more politically active and aware in our own mind, our own households, our own social circles and groups,” Pasquale said.

Meanwhile on Election Day, a group of high school students from Sandwich met in-person to make their voices heard, despite not being of age to vote.

Raelyn Mulroy, a student at Sandwich High School, organized a group of her peers at the high school to stand outside Oak Ridge Elementary School and greet voters as they headed to the polls. Mulroy and the other students hoisted up Biden/Harris and Black Lives Matter flags.

“I had this idea for a while, and figured there was no better time to do it than now,” Mulroy said. “We sent out a digital poster and spread the word and then built a following.”

Mulroy said that the pandemic influenced students to get involved, as the federal government decisions were impacting their lives.

“Since President Trump hasn’t pushed mask mandates, that affects us greatly,” Mulroy said. “It also affects us because people who impact our lives listen to him over Dr Fauci.”

Political signs adorn the entranceway to the Oak Ridge School on Nov. 3 (Jack Murray/Ithaca Week)

Even though Mulroy, 17, is ineligible to vote, she said she and her peers possess power in this election.

“We have voices, even though we are not legal adults,” Mulroy said. “There’s not much we can do in changing the legal system, so we have to talk to our parents and other adults in our community and have them help us make change happen.

Murphy said he hopes that young people who were involved with this election will stay engaged with politics, given that they collectively will control the future.

“I do hope that young people, including the college students and the high school students stay involved,” Murphy said. “Those are the most important people because it is their future that is on the ballot, it is their future that is in the hands of the politicians. You lose that control if you never cast a ballot.”

*The opinions expressed within are those only of Mr. Murphy and are in no form expressed opinions or endorsements from the Massachusetts Air National Guard, the United States Air Force, or the DOD.*

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