The Future is Ms. is an ongoing series of news reports by young feminists. This series is made possible by a grant from SayItForward.org in support of teen journalists and the series editor, Katina Paron.
As a sophomore, Ryan Pascal took to the internet when her majority-white school ignored Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Instead of honoring his legacy with speeches or a day of action, the administration at Palos Verdes Estates High School used the holiday to encourage students to study for their upcoming exams. Furious, Pascal wrote her first blog post questioning her school for minimizing the holiday and experiences of black students like herself. She wondered whether “there [would] be a different scenario if they were administrating a more diverse group of students.”
This year, Pascal, 18, uses her online platform to register voters for the 2020 election. Together with the Students Demand Action (SDA), she aims to register 100,000 voters, ages 18-29, by November. Her efforts are paying off, with SDA signing up new voters every week.
Her relationship with the group started after the 2018 Parkland shooting. Pascal’s blog spotlighted the disparity between the attention Black activists were getting compared to their white peers, leading her to co-found the SDA National Advisory Board, part of the national gun violence prevention organization Everytown for Gun Safety. (Note: The writer’s mother is an employee of Everytown for Gun Safety.)
“As a Black student myself, I know that there could be people on campus who have certain prejudices and certain racist viewpoints about me without knowing even me,” said Pascal, “and they have weaponry that my bare hands could never even imagine being able to fight back with.”
Her voter registration work has one main goal: support Black and brown Americans whose votes are being suppressed.
“It is important to help [oppressed] groups in voting because it is the most basic right of an American citizen,” explained Pascal, a Yale freshman. “And gun violence disproportionately impacts these groups.”
Through virtual voter registration and field offices, Pascal and the board mobilize students with “relational organizing”—which Pascal describes as “reaching out to your network, making sure that they’re all registered to vote, and in the right” polling place. Pascal also helped write a toolkit to aid members in their local registration. According to Everytown, SDA participation has increased by 500 percent by July 2020 compared to the same time period last year.
The teen, who is close to her family and church community, focuses her attention on battleground states where seats could easily shift to pro-gun politicians. She wants to combat laws that arm teachers and help pass others that eliminate “ghost guns”—those that can be hand-assembled from parts.
Pascal’s work is especially crucial this year because the current census will determine next year’s Congressional redistricting. According to the Brennan Center, redistricting often results in gerrymandering, where the district’s population is intentionally weighted to benefit a particular party.
“Voting in the upcoming election can determine what national politics look like for the next 10 years,” said Hillary Holley, organizing director of Fair Fight Action, an election reform organization.
Pascal and her fellow organizers are determined to make sure the youth is heard and represented in this election and all future ones.
“We know that 2020 is a pivotal election year,” explained Pascal, “and could change the course of gun violence and police violence in America.”