In many ways, Gabrielle Anzalone is your typical teenager. She’s currently dealing with her AP exams, getting ready to start college next fall, working part-time at a local pizzeria, and hanging out with her family and friends.
Somehow, Anzalone has also found time to run for office in Lindenhurst, NY.
“People ask me: Can you even do that? Are you allowed?” she told Refinery29, laughing. “Yes, I can.”
Anzalone has been politically active for a while, but she said the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, FL changed everything. The momentum created by student activists in the aftermath of the shooting inspired her. When a national school walkout to protest gun violence was planned for mid-March, Anzalone and a few of her classmates at the Lindenhurst High School decided to participate — even though they would be punished.
“We couldn’t live with ourselves without trying to make a difference,” she said. “On March 14, we walked out and we knew we were going to be suspended, but we did it anyway because it was the right thing to do.”
@News12LI @ABC7NY Today myself and 35 other students at Lindenhurst High School were suspended for walking out. But we are not stopping here. Tonight, at 8 pm, we will be attending the Board of Education meeting. We’re going to make a change. pic.twitter.com/Voq2u4DVR1
— Gabrielle (@gabyanzalone) March 14, 2018
Anzalone wasn’t suspended in the end, only because her school determined not to take further steps after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo sent a letter to State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia urging her to use her “authority to reverse course and cease any disciplinary actions.”
But Anzalone said the experience left a bad taste in her mouth.
“We were very upset with how the school board handled it,” she said. “Of course, I understood their concerns for safety, but we realized there was no true student representation in the board which is ironic considering that students are who they’re supposed to serve.”
According to Anzalone, most of the people in the board are midde-aged and some don’t even have children in K-12 schools anymore. “It’s sad to see that we don’t have that young representation,” she said.
Determined to change that, the 18-year-old decided to run for a seat at the Lindenhurst Board of Education. Over the last couple of weeks, she’s juggled campaigning, meeting with union heads and parent-teacher associations, and living her typical teenage life.
When asked how does she balance it all, Anzalone is matter-of-factly: “In the end, it’s about time allotment.”
The teen said that she’s been able to run for office because she has the support of her friends — who think that her bid is “the coolest thing in the world” — and her parents.
Anzalone was honest about the reservations her parents had at the beginning. “My mom was scared for me because I could face backlash,” she said. “But she’s really happy about it and so is my dad.”
She added that her 13-year-old sister is proud of her, even though she doesn’t fully understand what the role of a school board is. “But then again,” Anzalone said, “a lot of adults don’t know either.”
“The school board has control over the entire district. They manage everything from taxes to educational policies. My district is predominantly residential, so most of our money comes from homeowners. The responsibility is not only to students, but to taxpayers and the community as well,” Anzalone said.
When asked about her platform, she mentioned that her main goals are to bridge the gap between the board and Gen Z students, finding creative ways to prevent budget cuts that would impact school programs or staff, and helping students whose needs are underrepresented such as LGBTQ+ or immigrant teens.
These issues have definitely been shaped by Anzalone’s previous political experience. She volunteered for Bernie Sanders presidential campaign last election season. In 2016, she was an intern for the campaign of Laura Curran, now the county executive of Nassau County. Now, she’s interning in the finance department for the campaign of Liuba Grechen Shirley, who is running for Congress.
Today’s phone banking session!!💕 Thank you to our volunteers & supporters. pic.twitter.com/UUoQQcpvYk
— Gabrielle Anzalone (@Anzalone4Lindy) May 7, 2018
Anzalone said the wave of women running for office this year has also been a source of inspiration for her. She looks up to these women and feels that everyone, absolutely everyone, should be politically involved — be it by becoming candidates, working on campaigns, or just voting.
“If you have values and morals, if you care about something passionately — if you do, you’re interested in politics. It affects everything that we do every day,” she said. “If you want to live a good life and if you care about your kids, your family and friends, your country, you should be involved because democracy is a great gift that we have.”
Wise words for someone that is graduating high school next month.
Whether she ends up Tuesday’s election or not, Anzalone has big plans. Her dream job, she said, is being elected to the U.S. Senate. (Leslie Knope, the government-idealist and feminist hero from the hit show Parks and Recreation, was thrown around as another inspiration.)
But in the short-term? Anzalone didn’t skip a beat: “While in college, I would love to intern for Bernie Sanders.”
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