Zoe Siegel ’13, currently chief strategy officer at Drum Major Institute in New York, spoke to seniors in the Upper School about the challenges of activism in the current political climate.
The Drum Major Institute was founded in 1966 by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Harry Wachtel, lawyer and counselor to Dr. King during the years of the civil rights movement. The organization works for economic justice and racial equality, and it seeks to end gun violence. It also works to ensure that every American can vote without encountering serious obstacles or facing discrimination.
Siegel, who recently graduated from New York University, where she won an award for her activism, spoke about Drum Major Institute’s history, weaving in video clips of Dr. King’s speeches, including the final speech in Memphis, where he spoke about being “a drum major for righteousness.” She tied that message to Norfolk Academy’s statement of philosophy, which includes the sentence: “We aim to prepare students to become ultimately useful and responsible citizens of a democracy.”
She also spoke about the organization’s current work, particularly in the context of the recent school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 individuals, both students and teachers, were killed. She noted that there have been 280 school shootings between the time of the Columbine High School shooting in 1999 and Parkland.
That time span, she noted, encompasses more than the lifetime of all of the students. “What crosses your mind concerning what you can do to change this?” she asked, eliciting some responses from the seniors.
“Democracy is now an extreme sport,” she observed, noting that many citizens, including thousands of young people, are participating in marches or knocking on doors to sign up voters.
She closed by exhorting students to register to vote as soon as they turn 18, and then take every opportunity to exercise that fundamental right. “Silence only causes more problems,” she said. “Voting is the most important thing you can do.”