The Gunnery Increases Civic Engagement through Local Activities

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By Juliette Gaggini ’20

This school year, The Gunnery community has worked on getting more politically involved and informed, both on a national and a local level. Among other clubs, The Grey Party, led by advisor Mr. McMann, has worked hard in an effort to get students more politically involved.  

The Grey Party is a club on campus that was created a few years ago to work on finding a middle ground between the two sides of the political spectrum. Mr. McMann is excited about how far the club has come over the years. Looking back on how it started, Mr. McMann said, “the Grey Party, at first, was an independent academic project for Mark Choi ‘18 and Anthony Cochrane ‘18, who studied the political background of the school. They learned that in the 70s the school actually had a model congress over three days where school stopped. From there, we wanted to create some political events, so we hosted a gubernatorial debate on campus 3 years ago. That was the first event that we held. We then joined forces with a community organization, Better Angels, which is changing their name to Braver Angels. It has now evolved to a place where we have political forums and we also do workshops as well.”

Before the Grey Party started, the political clubs on campus were very divided, with the Young Democrats group and the Young Republicans group. The Grey Party works on finding a middle ground in the current polarized state of American politics.  

This year, the student leaders of the Grey Party are Jolie Kaplan ‘20 and Nathaniel Ince ‘20. When asked about their progress this year, Kaplan said “The Grey Party has expanded this past year to talk more about current day issues in light of the 2020 Presidential Election. More recently our efforts have been directed to informing students about the Democratic primaries, to raise voter registration numbers, promote civic engagement, and introduce the main candidates.”

In an effort to raise voter registration among students at The Gunnery, Ince and Kaplan handed out voter registration sheets on campus for those who will be of age to vote in the 2020 primaries.  

As well as the Grey Party, students in the Honors US Government and Politics class have also made a large stride this year with encouraging civic engagement. The class got involved with local town politics and also participated in a town forum. 

On Thursday, January 23, The Gunnery hosted a forum on U.S. immigration. The debate was held from 6-8 PM in the Gunn Memorial Library. Mr. McMann, teacher of the US. Government class was the main figure behind the forum alongside the Braver Angels corporation. Both Gunnery students and town citizens were invited to participate.  

Aidan Mullen ’20 speaking at the debate

The resolve of the recent debate was, “The United States Federal Government should substantially reduce its restrictions on legal immigration to the United  States.” Students chose to be on either the affirmative or opposing side of the statement. Students on the affirmative argued that it should be made easier to immigrate legally to the United States. Students that opposed the resolve argued that the legal immigration laws should stay the same. 

Students at the Braver Angels Debate with Mr. McMann.

Many students went to the debate who were interested in the topic but not part of the US Government class or the Grey Party. Since attending the debate, Kelly Hill ‘20 has been getting more involved with the Grey Party. When asked about why she decided to attend the forum, Hill said, “I felt like going to the debate would help me be better informed on the topic and I wanted to be there to support my peers who were giving speeches. I definitely gained a better understanding about the restrictions on legal immigration in the U.S.”

This forum was not the first time students met with townspeople about politics this school year. In the Fall term, the Honors US Government class helped campaign around campus for the Town of Washington First Selectman campaign. Students met with the candidates, Jim Brinton and Michelle Gorra, multiple times before the election. The class attended the town debate at Bryan Memorial Town Hall on October 10, working as mediators and timekeepers.

Mr. McMann was happy that his students stepped up to participate in the forum, saying, “I was really excited that the students ran and led the debate forum for the candidates. I also liked the energy from the class, it never seemed like a burden and the kids were very excited to see the political arena for this local town.”

Students at the Washington Town Forum with First Selectman candidates. Photo courtesy of Mr. McMann. 

On election day, November 5, the students went into town to support  their candidates. They also went back to town hall that night where the new Town of Washington First Selectman was announced.  

Harry Harwood ‘20, a student who helped work on the first selectman campaign, said, “Working with first selectman candidates in local government was a cool experience because it was the first time I got to be really involved with politics. It taught me about the importance of civic engagement, especially at a small local level.”

Students from the Honors US Government class at the town election day with First Selectman Jim Brinton. Photo courtesy of  Jolie Kaplan ‘20.

Mr. McMann and the members of the Grey Party are excited to continue expanding the club next year. He hopes to see students continue to step up as leaders of the Grey Party and hopes to build in some programming around the 2020 Presidential Election. Mr. McMann has recently volunteered to be one of the two Connecticut State Organizers for the Braver Angels corporation and is happy that they already have two dates set to host debates at the Gunn Memorial Library next year. 

The Gunnery community is excited to continue taking strides towards more student civic engagement, both on the small town level and the national level in years to come. As the community moves to distance learning for the remainder of this school year, students and faculty continue to find ways to encourage others to be engaged with the current issues at hand. 

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