The Kids Are All Right!

I have several friends who have stopped watching/reading the news. They find the daily assault just too depressing.

But along with the deluge of dispiriting news they’re avoiding are some very encouraging stories. I recently came across one.

THE NATIONWIDE CAMPAIGN to stifle discussions of race and gender in public schools through misinformation and bullying suffered a reversal in Idaho on Monday, when a high school senior vocally opposed to book bans and smears against LGBTQ+ youth took a seat on the Boise school board.

The student, Shiva Rajbhandari, was elected to the position by voters in Idaho’s capital last week, defeating an incumbent board member who had refused to reject an endorsement from a local extremist group that has harassed students and pushed to censor local libraries.

Rajbhandari turned 18 only a few days before the election, but evidently he was already well-known in the school district as a student organizer on climate, environmental, voting rights, and gun control issues.

Pretty impressive for a 17-year-old.

If your reaction to a high school senior on a school board is less than enthusiastic, that’s  understandable. But the difference between Rajbhandari and his opponent was stark.

In the closing days of the campaign, his opponent, Steve Schmidt, was endorsed by the far-right Idaho Liberty Dogs, which in response helped Rajbhandari win the endorsement of Boise’s leading newspaper, the Idaho Statesman.

Rajbhandari, a third-generation Idahoan whose father is from Nepal, was elected to a two-year term with 56 percent of the vote.

Rajbhandari insisted that he’d wanted people to vote for him rather than against his opponent, but acknowledged that he had been shocked that Schmidt wouldn’t reject the far-right group’s endorsement.

The Idaho Liberty Dogs, which attacked Rajbhandari on Facebook for being “Pro Masks/Vaccines” and leading protests “which created traffic jams and costed [sic] tax payers money,” spent the summer agitating to have books removed from public libraries in Nampa and Meridian, two cities in the Boise metro area

Rajbhandari had started leading Extinction Rebellion climate protests in Boise when he was only 15 years old, and it was through that activism that he became familiar with Liberty Dogs and its tactics.

“We used to have climate strikes, like back in ninth grade, and they would come with AR-15s,” he said, bringing rifles to intimidate “a bunch of kids protesting for a livable future.”

When he was 16, Rajbhandari had publicly confronted Idaho’s then- far-right lieutenant governor, who had set up a task force to “Examine Indoctrination in Idaho Education.” He accused her of investigating an entirely imaginary threat and endorsing baseless conspiracy theories to generate support for her candidacy.

When Idaho’s Liberty Dogs endorsed Schmidt along with a slate of other candidates for the school board (all of whom, fortunately, ended up losing), Rajbhandari texted his rival to say, “You need to immediately disavow this.”

“This is a hate group,” Rajbhandari says he told Schmidt. “They intimidate teachers, they are a stain on our schools, and their involvement in this election is a stain on your candidacy.” Schmidt, however, refused to clearly reject the group, even after the Idaho Liberty Dogs lashed out at a local rabbi who criticized the endorsement by comparing the rabbi to Hitler and claiming that he harbored “an unrelenting hatred for white Christians.”

We old folks repeatedly hear –and repeatedly repeat!–accusations about the apathy of the younger generation. The following paragraphs of the linked article give the lie to that lazy characterization.

The initial impetus for Rajbhandari’s run for office was a feeling of frustration that the Boise school board was simply ignoring pleas from student climate activists to make a clean energy commitment. Two years ago, he said, a group of high school and junior high students tried everything they could think of to urge the board to make a commitment to renewable energy. “We sent emails; we did a postcard drive and wrote like 300 postcards; we met with our local power company; we had a petition, we delivered the largest petition ever to our school district,” Rajbhandari said, but the board never responded. “Last year, I wrote a letter to our school board president, just asking for a meeting … and I never got anything back. But I know that he read my letter because about a week later, I was called to the principal’s office.”

“That’s when I knew I was going to run” for a seat on the board, Rajbhandari recalled. “Because that is indicative of a problem. Students are the primary stakeholders in our education, right? And yet our board wasn’t seeing us as constituents, and they weren’t willing to meet with us, and they weren’t taking our ideas seriously,” he said.

The kids are okay. We “elders” just need to get out of their way…