Agoura event tackles intolerance, injustice, discrimination

Ventura County Star

October 15, 2017

An event designed for high school students to "stand up for intolerance and injustice and discrimination — and to encourage our local leaders to do the same" drew about 100 people to the Agoura Performing Arts Center on Saturday, according to organizer Nicholas Moran.

The Agoura High School senior said he was pleased with the turnout at the event that he organized as president of the campus GenUN club, the student outreach program of the United Nations.

Moran brought State Sen. Henry Stern, D-Canoga Park, whose district represents part of Ventura County, to answer questions from some of the concerned students.

First, Stern addressed the current state of the community. He referenced the racial violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, and then brought it closer to home.

“We saw it in Newbury Park with Mein Kampf over the loud speakers on the football field,” Stern said. “We saw swastikas on mailboxes in Simi Valley.”

He told about getting ready for his own Bar Mitzvah and being ridiculed.

“It doesn’t have to be spray-painted,” Stern said. “It’s that little side comment.”

He assured the audience that lawmakers are busy in Sacramento “creating a fulcrum for justice.”

“You need to get together with people who are not like you,” Stern said. “We have a homelessness problem, a trafficking problem. These issues are big enough that you don’t have to rectify those other issues. Lay down your arms. Put aside the arguments you’re having on Facebook and find a way to go build a house for Habitat for Humanity together.”

An Agoura High student asked Stern how a teenager could make a difference.

Stern suggested that teens engage politically even before they're old enough to vote, pointing out that school is a good place to begin. He cautioned against rallying only people who share a mindset. He said it’s important to seek out the opposition.

“The duty of leaders is to wake people up,” Stern said.

Another student asked about the need for a change in education.

Stern applauded the Las Virgenes Unified School District, but then agreed, saying, “If it doesn’t change, it will fail.”

In response to the question, “What can we do so all people feel welcome within our borders?” Stern talked about laws to protect sanctuary status and those currently protected by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA — with the understanding that California will not tolerate or protect criminals of any kind.

Stern said he felt it was important for him to appear at this event.

“I chose this event because I think our democracy is at risk these days, and the only cure is a well-educated, civically engaged country,” Stern said.  “It starts with the next generation. These Agoura High students are wrestling with complex questions about poverty, health and climate change, so I just wanted to offer a hand to help however I can.”

Also at Saturday's event, Zephanii Smith, of the National Council United Nations Association USA, spoke of the organization’s goals for a better world, which, she said, begins on a community level.

Moran explained that GenUN "focuses on giving high school and college kids a platform to get involved in local, national and global issues.”

He formed the club at his school about a year ago after watching the nightly news and “seeing a lot of very disturbing news stories,” the 17-year-old said.

With more than 100 members, Moran now has the largest group in the U.S.

“I realized the only way things are going to change is if people like myself are going to act up,” Moran said.