State Sen. Mae Flexer can trace her entire political career back to one interaction she had with a member of her hometown’s town council, she told an audience at the University of Connecticut Tuesday night.
When she was in high school, Flexer said she and some classmates had learned that her town, Killingly, had proposed cuts to her high school’s sports, music and foreign language budgets. She and other students were upset, and they decided to attend a town council meeting to express their opinion.
“We went to the town meeting, we passed out flyers, and we said, ‘Please consider us when you’re voting tonight. These programs are important to us,’” Flexer said. “I went up to two gentlemen, I said just that, and they said, ‘You kids are wasting your time, you don’t know what’s going to happen tonight.’”
Flexer was disappointed that adults would talk that way to her, she said, and was surprised when she went into the meeting and found out that they were two elected members of Killingly’s town council.
“A year later, one of those town councilors ran for the state senate. So I called up the person he was running against and said, ‘How can I help you?,” because there was no way I was going to let someone who thought kids shouldn’t have a say in how our town was run get a promotion and be our state senator,” Flexer said. “And now I’m a state senator, which is kinda crazy.”
Flexer said though the process of making change can be slow, college-aged people have begun to speed it up.
“People that are your age and between your age and my age are really changing that and are making our voices heard more and more and more,” Flexer said. “I think that’s gonna change as you guys become a bigger part of the electorate, and people are finally going to listen to young people about some of these issues.”
When asked about the best ways for young people to go about making change, Flexer said they should find a cause they believe in and get involved with either a person or an organization trying to make that change.
Some of the changes she’s championed, Flexer said, were centered around domestic violence and violence against women, including an affirmative consent standard that the state of Connecticut passed for all of its institutions of higher education.
“I think a lot of what I do, the things I’ve chosen to work on, has been about seeing inequities in systems and how, if the people who were the most adversely affected by those things had a stronger voice, then it wouldn’t be that way, and so how can I use this fancy title that I’ve been given of senator [to] make their voices amplified as loud as possible,” Flexer said.
Tetiana Winiarskyj, sixth-semester English major and Residence Hall Association (RHA) executive board member, said RHA chose to host Flexer because they felt it’s important to promote youth activism, especially given this year’s Metanoia theme of youth for change.
“We wanted to create an event that would encourage students to become active members in their community, especially with something that they’re passionate about,” Winiarskyj said. “Mae Flexer was a student here, and she had experience with that.”
Gabriella DeBenedictis is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.