Williston Park’s Kathryn Ritchie originally thought she would study medicine. The shootings of high school students in Parkland, Florida, gave her a political awakening and now she’s going to Capitol Hill.
“A great community is determined by the interaction of the people within it,” said Ritchie, who is 17 and politically driven. Key issues she is concerned about are gun violence and civic participation.
Ritchie, who will be a senior at Herricks High School in the coming school year, is a student activist selected to join a group of almost 1,000 students at the American Civil Liberties Union’s 2019 Summer Advocacy Institute program in Washington, D.C. The program is running from July 20 to Friday.
Ritchie said she is lucky to have the support of her family for her political activism and is encouraged to follow her passion. In an interview, she spoke about civic participation, voting and figuring out ways to get people off the couch on Election Day and into the voting booths.
“We have to remind people what government does,” she said. “Political tensions deter votes.” She said that her generation is just starting to go to college and enter the workforce and it is important to keep up with politics and the news. She said controlling the course of the nation is “going to be our job soon.”
This summer won’t be her first time at Capitol Hill. It all started last year when violence struck Florida.
The Stoneman Douglas High School shootings in Parkland in February 2018 sparked Ritchie’s “political feelings” and interest in gun violence reform. By summer 2018, she had been accepted into a fellowship with former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ anti-gun organization Americans for Responsible Solutions. Giffords survived a shooting.
Ritchie participates not only in Washington D.C. politics but what is going on in Herricks. She started participating in Herricks Board of Education meetings during her junior year and said she has successfully negotiated a new bathroom in the high school with the board. She said she will continue to attend board meetings during her senior year. Ritchie used to lives in Queens before attending Herricks and plans on bringing both her Herricks roots and Queens roots to Washington.
“Young people’s voices matter,” Ritchie said. She doesn’t know where she wants to go for her undergraduate education yet, but she said she plans on going to law school. When asked where she sees herself if five to 10 years, she said she imagines herself working for the ACLU or a political campaign.
To get into the ACLU program, Ritchie had to write an essay on community organizing in February. She said she was accepted three weeks later.
The program involves high school students engaging with lawyers and political activists to build expertise and knowledge in advocacy. Issues being highlighted involve criminal justice reform, voting rights, religious freedom, participation in debates, and how to develop successful media and social networking strategies.
The week culminates Thursday with a lobby day in which the students will participate in meetings with elected officials and congressional staff members on Capitol Hill. This year the focus is on the treatment of immigrant families at the border. Former CIA employee and whistleblower Edward Snowden will be one of the keynote speakers at the event via webcam.