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Bloomington High Schoolers Dive Into Local Politics With Online Journal

From left, Jolie Ortiz, Anusha Nadkarni, and Savvy Sleevar from the Liberation Colorized content team.
Ryan Denham
From left, Jolie Ortiz, Anusha Nadkarni, and Savvy Sleevar from the Liberation Colorized content team.

A group of Bloomington high school students have launched an online journal in hopes of re-shaping the conversation around local politics to include more young people.

Liberation Colorized launched in March, during a particularly turbulent time in local politics. District 87 candidate Jon Reed came under fire—he ultimately left the race—for posting racist and misogynist content on social media. The campaign against him was led by in part by students.

Around that time, Bloomington High School junior Anusha Nadkarni launched Liberation Colorized.

“A lot of times students aren’t really asked for their opinions, or those opinions aren’t valued, solely because they’re students or youth,” Nadkarni said. “I thought that some sort of decentralized journaling platform that didn’t belong to a school or some sort of organization would be beneficial for students to have a choice and feel valued in the community.”

The online publication touches on local politics and broader issues of race and culture, gender and sexuality, and class and education. There are a more than two dozen young people on its content-creation team, with plans to pick back up again during the fall semester.

Savvy Sleevar, who just graduated BHS and is headed to college to study journalism, is one of the content creators. She penned a lengthy piece in response to this spring’s Unit 5 and District 87 school board meetings in which conservative media stoked fears about critical race theory, inclusive sex education, and COVID-19 mask-wearing. The meetings troubled Sleevar.

“When I’m angry, I write. After the meeting, I wrote a lot,” she said. “It’s really disheartening to see … youth are so impacted by these sociopolitical issues, and we’ve been forced to mature really fast in this very contentious environment. While we have to experience it, we’re rarely ever given an equal platform to speak upon it. So when adults were trying to shut very dear friends of mine down at a very disrespectful way at those school board meetings, I wanted to have a platform to regain that student autonomy that we’re very often denied.”

The Liberation Colorized students have become politically aware during the Trump era and its immediate aftermath—a particularly nasty moment in American politics.

"I don’t think we have a choice to turn a blind eye, or a choice to just ignore what’s happening."
Anusha Nadkarni

“A lot of it is motivated by fear,” Nadkarni said. “We’re growing up in an era that’s more diverse and more self-aware of the issues that have been occurring than ever before. As a minority myself, as someone who goes to school with a variety of minority and marginalized students, I don’t think we have a choice to turn a blind eye, or a choice to just ignore what’s happening. Because whether we like it or not, we are affected by some policy that’s happening today.”

The spread of misinformation on social media has created more urgency around media literacy in K-12 schools. The state of Illinois will require high schools to teach media literacy starting in 2022.

When it comes to media literacy, BHS junior and Liberation Colorized content creator Jolie Ortiz said she feels privileged to have parents with whom she’s politically aligned. That’s not always the case, she said.

“Growing up, my parents always taught me to question everything. Always question everything. And not everybody has that,” Ortiz said. “A lot of students who I go to school with just blindly follow the things that their parents say, which oftentimes can be misinformation. And their parents don’t know, which means they don’t know. So something like Liberation Colorized is so essential for us to get our voices out there, and for us to educate those people who might not know, and for them to see a different perspective that is easy to understand and that is written by people that they know. Because you’re more likely to believe something when you know the person.”

Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.