Shared from the 12/3/2018 Albany Times Union eEdition


Shooting was their call to action

Teens helped organize March for Our Lives, then hit campaign trail

Will Waldron / Times Union

Morgan Mulligan from Bethlehem High School, left; Hamza Noor from Schalmont High School, center; and Maeve Donnelly, also from Bethlehem, volunteered for Democratic political campaigns in the recent midterm election.

Will Waldron / times union

Hamza noor from Schalmont High School, center, makes campaign calls in support of local democratic candidates while volunteering at the Albany democratic Committee headquarters on nov. 5, the day before election day.

Hamza Noor hit three milestones in 2018: when he and his parents became American citizens; when Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s campaign appointed him Schenectady volunteer coordinator; and when he turned 16.

The Schalmont High School junior’s buddies, Maeve Donnelly and Morgan Mulligan, who attend Bethlehem High School, are also

16. In the wake of the Valentine’s Day mass shooting that killed 17 students and staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., they all helped organize this past spring’s March for Our Lives protests against gun violence that drew thousands of people across the Capital Region.

After the exhilaration of the rallies, the three teens went from protest leaders to foot soldiers on the Democrats’ campaign trail, knocking on doors in the 19th Congressional District for Antonio Delgado, who supported the protests and blasted the National Rifle Association’s “chokehold” on politics.

Noor also campaigned for Lt.Gov. Kathy Hochul and Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, who were re-elected; Letitia James, who won the race for attorney general; and Pat Strong, who ran for the state Senate.

Strong lost her race to the NRA-endorsed incumbent George Amedore. It was a tough outcome for Noor, who considers Strong a mentor. She gave him tips on how to approach voters, and he loved knocking on doors with her.

Noor’s family came to the United States from Pakistan. His calm confidence makes it easy to see why Schalmont recruited him for an anti-bullying program. But after 132 people died in 2018 election-related violence in their homeland, his mother feared anti-immigrant rhetoric might make campaigning dangerous for her son.

“There was one time I was scared,” he recalled about an afternoon of door knocking in a rural area with another teen. “Two drunk guys answer. They seemed confrontational,” Noor said. “Then a woman walks to the door carrying a coffee cup with the Confederate flag on it.”

All three teens worked the phones.

“People are much more polite face to face. On the phone, people will yell nonstop,” Mulligan said. “Elderly people got mad if you called after 8 p.m. You’re supposed to keep reading from the script no matter what. But the scripts are pretty bad.”

One man answered Donnelly’s scripted question by firing what sounded like a gun near the phone.

The teens felt Facebook posts they wrote had a bigger impact on potential voters than the phone banking, which reached land lines, but not cellphones. They hoped the 2020 campaign would embrace Instagram “which is what people our age use,” Mulligan said.

Donnelly recruited her dad for the old-school outreach.

“He phoned in his pajamas,” she said fondly with pride.

Their parents were proud of the children, too. Their classmates? Baffled.

“Most kids at our schools are not interested in politics,” Donnelly said as Noor and Mulligan nodded. “Bethlehem is considered liberal. But most of my male classmates love Trump because he’s rich, loud, flamboyant, makes mean jokes.”

One insight the students gained by campaigning is, with all its flaws, grassroots politicking can have as big an impact as a visually riveting grand gesture. Donnelly tried to organize a summer march from Albany to Rep. John Faso’s congressional office in Kingston to lobby the Republican who received an A+ rating from the NRA. But town officials along the route told her she needed $1 million in insurance. So she opted to devote her time and energy to Delgado, Faso’s opponent.

The Delgado-Faso race was a dead heat Election Day. The teens said they couldn’t bear attending a victory party that night that might end tearfully. Noor went to bed after soccer practice. Mulligan stayed home tracking votes inside a text chat and seeking comfort from other young campaigners.

In the coming year, they must focus on earning money and getting good grades for college while dreaming of 2020 when they will be voting for the first time. Their favorite White House contenders are Sen. Kamala Harris of California and Congressman Beto O’Rourke of Texas.

They vow never to abandon their cause: gun control. Two days after the elections, a gunman killed 12 people in a California bar. Donnelly and her friends organized a candlelight memorial for the victims, some of whom were just a few years out of their teens.

lyedwards@timesunion. com 518-454-5403

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