Profiling Young Activists: Hannah Zimmerman

Hannah Zimmerman on social media, the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign in 2016, the next generation in politics, and being a real bitch

When you were younger, what were your expectations for high school?

I always wanted a beautiful blonde football player to come sweep me off my feet, and then I became a feminist… In all seriousness, I never expected to be politically engaged, especially at the level I am now.

Discuss your involvement in the 2016 Election and how it helped you.

In 2015, I founded “High Schoolers for Bernie,” a national grassroots organization with the goal of promoting high school student engagement in the Bernie Sanders campaign. The organization grew to include over two hundred student members in ten states. From those members, I put together a team of five students to serve as deputy presidents of the organization. Each deputy was placed in charge of a different aspect of the organization, namely: outreach, branding, social media, communications, and website management. As part of their commitment, I asked that all five deputies consult with me on their progress at least once a week during the weeks leading up to causes or primary elections and at least twice a week during caucus/election weeks. As President, I secured funding for the organization from the national campaign, and political action committees. I also conducted all external communications, including to the national Bernie Sanders campaign, other grassroots Bernie Sanders organizations, and the state boards of elections (with respect to our mass high school student voter registration drives). When the organization held open meetings for deputies and teams, I presided over the meeting and led discussions. I also led the group in developing two initiatives I am particularly proud of. First, an initiative we called “Talk to Your Parents,” which was aimed at promoting discussions between high school students and parents. This initiative was so successful that it was adopted by the national Bernie Sanders campaign. Second, an “Extra Credit Initiative” in which students worked with their high school teachers so that students would receive extra credit in their history classes for either voting/caucusing in a primary election or volunteering at their local polling station.

I was not done when the primaries ended and my political activism continued. I was appointed by the National Bernie Sanders campaign to sit on the national credentials committee at the democratic national convention, making me the youngest person ever to serve on said committee in the history of the democratic party at only 16 years old.

When I came back to New York after the democratic national convention, I reached out to the Democratic Socialists of America about joining forces between “High Schoolers for Bernie,” and “Young Democratic Socialists of America.” The National Coordinating Committee of Young Democratic Socialists and I talked and “High Schoolers for Bernie” was successfully merged with the Young Democratic Socialists. Further, I was elected to the national coordinating committee of the Young Democratic Socialists to oversee high school outreach and the merger.

Now, I’m still active in high school activism in New York City, providing civic engagement opportunities for high school students as co-chair of the New York State High School Democrats, as well as in my role with the Young Democratic Socialists. For example, I coordinate with local and state campaigns to give high school students new opportunities in the realm of progressive politics. In this way, I stay true to Bernie and am continuing the political revolution. I will attend Stanford University in the fall.

What are causes that you are passionate about?

I am most passionate about income inequality. Currently, in our country, income inequality is at its highest level and measures need to be taken to curb that. As a socialist, I strive to even the playing field so no person is more important than another simply based on the balance in their bank account. I am also passionate about climate change. Climate change is an undeniable fact and we need to as Americans protect our climate, and we don’t have much time to waste on this.

Did gender play a role (positive or negative) at all in your experiences?

Gender is often the bane of my existence because as women, we have to walk a fine line between bitchy and authoritative. It’s hard to walk this line, as getting passionate can be misconstrued as hysteria and it becomes hard to be a female leader. It’s not as bad with this generation but working with men of higher generations on different projects can become excruciatingly difficult. For example, last week I attended the United States Junior Senate Youth Program, and was called “indignant” and “assertive” by the United States Senator from Mississippi because I asked him his stance on climate change and refused to back down.

What does it mean to grow up? Describe your years in high school and middle school.

I believe you grow up when you can no longer ask your parents for help. When you become so accomplished and dedicated to a field that you’ve surpassed your parent’s knowledge of it that I believe you’re an adult because you’re doing your own work at a level they don’t understand. You’re independent.

What do you consider a challenge for teens growing up in urban areas (if there is a problem at all)?

I believe that the New York City is the best place on earth. But it’s also the most distracting. It can be just as easy be defined as a wonderful place to be a political activist as it is to get trapped spending your evenings getting wasted at at anywhere non-academic. We have so many opportunities that kids around the country would kill for but we often leave them untouched. So, my advice is to take advantage of the city because there are so many opportunities awaiting you that are unique and wonderful.

What impact did your parents have on your adolescence and on your involvement in activism and politics? Do they agree with your stances?

If you’re asking if my parents are socialists, the answer is no. But my parents have always been my biggest fans. I love them very deeply for it. I became politically active after they were both let go from their jobs in 2013. While I was fortunate that my parents had saved enough money that we faced no financial struggle, during this time I watch them change and become new people. I watched them reconnect with their hobbies and roots, and talk with me about experiences that they have had in their lives. It was during this time of extreme communication with my parents that I began to develop strong political views. It was during this time hearing about my father’s blue-collar background, and how he had to turn down the University of Pennsylvania because he simply could not afford it, that I began to see the injustices in this world. It would take the Bernie Sanders campaign to push me to socialism but my political thinking had begun.

Talk about the impact of media, social media, and art in your life.

I’ve always said that the future of organizing lies in social media. A few weeks ago we had a mass protest at the JFK airport and that was organized through Facebook. The social media websites are simply going to be tools for the revolution. It makes me very excited to see how they develop. As a trained singer, music has always held a very powerful place in my life. I believe that music can be a tool for activism and music can be great for educating the masses.

Was there ever a time where you felt your teenagehood merge with your work?

Yes. There have been parties that I couldn’t go to, friends I’ve had to distance myself from, and more that I just couldn’t be around or couldn’t make because of politics and the work I do. I have to be especially cautious around alcohol because for other kids there is always the threat of being seen or photographed drinking. For me, it’s “What the hell would happen if anyone I work with right now saw this?” and“What if someone sees this when you become an adult?”. There is making a hard choice between becoming a star at school or working very hard in the community outside of school. Perhaps you can tell by my attendance which one I chose.

Is there an “ideal teenage life”? Did you have an image for high school before you began?

I believe the ideal teenage life is one in which you are productive beyond your school and beyond what looks good on your college application I believe the ideal teenage life involves you making a difference simply because you’re passionate about it. That is the ideal teenage life because passion is hard to find. But, if you can find it and utilize it than the world is your oyster.

Have you ever gone viral?

I went viral twice. The first was I was the subject of a mic.com article entitled “Meet the 16-Year-Old DNC Member Who Says Bernie Sanders Changed America — And Her Life”

I was given a virtual shoutout from the popular grassroots group “The People for Bernie Sanders.” The second was I wrote a Facebook post after the election about my frustration with the electoral process that got over 800 likes and 377 shares. This was the body of the post:

“I have never made a post of this nature before and hopefully I will never have to again. I want to take a second to look back to the primary and give a shout out to the establishment.

HOW DARE YOU

HOW. DARE. YOU.

Thank you for ignoring the polls showing Bernie Sanders would win in a landslide against Trump. Thank you for superdelegates stacked in major odds against Bernie. Thank you for putting debates on Sunday nights and encouraging voter suppression. Thank you for refusing to release Hillary’s Wall Street transcripts. Thank you for lining up behind THE ONLY candidate who could lose to Donald Trump.

Please don’t say this is the fault of the left or third party voters for Trump has won by large margins in most swing states. This is the fault of the democratic establishment being out of sync with the people. Hopefully, this election serves as a warning–when you rig a primary, you lose a general.

I am disgusted to be an American right now. What does it say that we will have President Trump? I can only hope that he is impeached the second he steps foot in the oval office, for I am deeply scared. “

What are some major events happening right now (literally right now) with domestic and foreign affairs, problems we are facing internationally, problems between generations, etc.?

I mean, the Israel-Palestinian crisis is always one to focus on, but even more, pressing is our relationship with the Russian government. It’s evolving in such a way that scares me. Russia has been involved with the number of attacks that the United States should be addressing but not supporting. I’m fearful of what President Trump will turn a blind eye to and how the President’s blind eye could lead to more terrorism in the Middle East.

What are actions that the younger generations can take?

You’re never too young to Canvass. You’re never too you’re never too young direct letters to your elected officials. You’re never too young to protest other please take your parents for safety reasons. Just getting to surround yourself with activists at a young age can contribute to a love of public service and activism.

Have you ever been told that you were “too young” to do something?

Yes. All the time. It often hurts that many activists like to meet in bars. As someone who can’t get into a bar, it becomes difficult to attend these meetings, and you often have to make it up through phone calls and notes. However, sometimes you just need to push the limits. Hopefully this summer I will run to represent my election district in New York County’s Democratic committee. If I win, I will be the youngest person to serve on this committee, and New York City’s youngest elected. But currently, we’re just determining if I’m old enough to run.

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Kelly Chen
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Kelly is a teen artist and writer from NYC, currently attending Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts. She is vocal about the Asian American community, urban adolescence, and social effects of changing demographics in music. Kelly is a fashion forward punk rocker just trying to integrate functions in Calculus and sing songs about the Periodic Table of Elements in Chemistry.

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