Immigration. Healthcare. Women’s Reproductive Rights. LGBTQ Rights. These are just some of the areas subject to significant change under the new presidential administration. What is one to do during a period of so much uncertainty? At Manhattan Country School’s annual meeting for trustees, parents, faculty and staff on Tuesday, March 28, representatives from the school community described how they are responding in their professional work.
The event, titled “What’s Next?: Addressing Injustice in Our Current Political Climate,” featured a panel of the following MCS community members:
- Caroline Cotter, Deputy Director of Philanthropy, New York Civil Liberties Union, and an MCS Trustee
- Sophia Goring-Piard, Of Counsel, Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy, LLP, and an MCS Parent (Jessica '17 and Chelsea '22)
- Josh Guild, Associate Professor of History and African American Studies, Princeton University, and an MCS Parent (Benjamin '26)
- Nassim Zerriffi, History Teacher and Activism Coordinator, Manhattan Country School
MCS Director Michèle Solá opened the discussion with remarks about the history and continuity of activism at the school. She then asked each panelist to share how they are addressing injustice in their work.
Sophia Goring-Piard talked about the impact the new administration’s executive orders on immigration are having on her work as an immigration attorney. In addition to representing corporations and individuals in employment-related issues, she provides pro bono services to undocumented immigrants, including those currently in the United States under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy.
Of the increased focus on restricting immigration and increasing deportation, Sophia said: “This immigration enforcement that we’re under isn’t really exclusive to immigration anymore. The enforcement measures are going to impact families and communities and it's going to call for a coalition of professionals who are not just immigration practitioners.... We need to be able to reach beyond our own silo practice areas and build support with people who practice in different areas to find solutions when the enforcement really is ramped up and families are left not only separated but stranded.”
As a professor at Princeton University, Joshua said he tells his students that they can confront injustice by becoming students of history. He conveys the following three ideas to his classes:
- Historical progression is neither inevitable nor linear.
- Social movements must confront the enormity of the obstacle with profound imagination.
- Daily acts of resistance have to be matched with long-term visions and strategies.
He provided examples of moments in history–—slavery, the Jim Crow era, the murder of Emmett Till—when change seemed impossible. He also stressed that change can be a long time coming.
“The forces that have produced Donald Trump were, at a minimum, 50 years in the making...,” said Joshua. “The kind of transformation of our democracy that I think is really required to sustain the kind of change that most of us want to see is going to require thinking about 50 years out from now….”
“A lot of the change that we want to see is not going to happen in our lifetime. We do it for our children here, we do it for all the children in the world and hopefully they will see some of what we believe should come to pass.”
Caroline shared that, in the current political climate, her work “has definitely changed in profound ways but also in some ways not at all.” She noted that organizations like the NYCLU and ACLU were created to address threats to civil rights and have seen many since their inception.
“The ACLU and NYCLU have faced similar constitutional crises at different times in our country’s history,” said Caroline. “But the ACLU is saying that the Trump administration really is the greatest threat in the modern era that we’ve ever seen to civil liberties, to civil rights and to the role of law….We’ve seen this before, but this is unprecedented.….but this is the kind of situation we were made for.”
Nassim explained how current times are impacting his work with MCS students. This year, in addition to studying the presidential election and the policies of the new administration, the seventh- and eighth-graders are focused on climate change for their annual activism project. One of the areas they’ve examined is the move to encourage companies to divest from fossil fuel. Protesters have successfully influenced companies such as Wells Fargo and ING to withdrawing funding from projects such as the Dakota Access Pipeline.
“There has been success after success,” said Nassim. “I think that it’s really important that our young people see that. If you think about our young people, not only are they getting the same scary news that we’re getting....their media is [dominated by] dystopian novels and dystopian movies. All their images of the future are dystopian and this is problematic.”
The panelists for Tuesday evening’s discussion represent just a few of the many teachers and administrators, parents and trustees in the MCS community who are living the MCS mission in their personal and professional lives.