Learn Ask Act

by Mallory Carlson ’19

This past Thursday (October 26), Sherwood hosted a forum on local government. The evening, planned by the Women’s Alliance for Democracy and Justice, a local organization, with the support of EmpowHER, a Sherwood club, was a nonpartisan event, attended by many members of the Olney (and surrounding) community in addition to some Sherwood students, that included three guest speakers to inform and encourage listeners to participate in local government.

The first speaker was Dan Reed, an urban planner and freelance writer based in Silver Spring. He utilized his time to conduct a brief civics 101 lesson, in which he detailed the levels of local government, starting with the smallest – neighborhood groups and the PTA. Then came boards, committees, and commissions, of which there are more than 75 with various concentrations. This was followed by county task forces, then citizen advisory boards, municipalities, planning boards, the school board, the county council, and finally the county executive, which is similar to a mayor. All of these varying levels of government make it easy and effective to get involved, Reed said. “This is where it counts,” he stated. “A lot of the stuff you care about is right here.”

The second portion of the evening was centered around asking questions to Nancy Navarro and Eric Luedtke, a county council member and state delegate, respectively. The first question for the pair was what their college major was, and if they were always interested in politics. Navarro explained that her major in college was actually psychology and business administration, and that she always desired a job in a leadership position, which eventually led her to politics. Luedtke said that he majored in government and history in college, and went straight into politics, but hated it. He then went back to school and got his master’s in education, and taught middle school, and after a while decided to run for office partly because of all the issues he saw plaguing his students. “It’s good practice for politics, teaching middle schoolers,” he joked. When asked about the most compelling issue on the agenda at the moment, Navarro discussed minimum wage and how the council will soon be voting on the issue. Luedtke was also asked about what the state does for women’s health and reproductive rights, especially with the political climate as it is now. He explained that the Maryland state congress will make sure that Planned Parenthood will continue to be funded even in the event of loss of support from the federal government. There are things that the state government are not doing well with, though, he said. He advocated for increased legislation on sexual assault, specifically a bill that would allow a victim to petition to not allow their rapist to have parental rights. On this issue, civilian support is crucial – Luedtke encouraged the writing of letters and making calls to support the legislation. Both speakers concluded with ways for students and other members of the community to get involved. Navarro encouraged looking on the Montgomery County Council website, making calls, emailing, contacting through Facebook or Instagram, or coming by the county council office – they have an open door policy. Luedtke said that any way possible is good, whether it be telephone, email, or letters. “Tell us what you want, hold us accountable for what you want,” he stated. “Your voice really does matter … it can make a huge difference.”

The third, or “learn,” section of the evening was led by local activist Vinny DeMarco. His speech was focused on his six step plan that he has cultivated for those working to get a certain policy implemented in government. The first step is to create an evidence based policy plan, so that anyone looking at the proposal can see the concrete facts and purposes the policy will serve. The second step is to commission a high quality poll, so that legislators looking at the proposal can see that it will benefit and is desired by many people in their constituency. The third step is to build a coalition, or an alliance to support the policy. The fourth step is to bring on the media, so that the issue gets a wide viewership and more and more people are able to learn about and support the cause. The fifth step is to make the policy into an election issue. This ensures that politicians will hear the issue and some will support it and publicize it through their campaign. The final step is to go win in the legislature, or get the bill passed. DeMarco emphasized that even after the legislation passes, it is important to thank the legislators and work to implement what was passed.