Emma Axelrod: Dear Presidential Debate Committee, a lot has happened in the United States since 1992, the last time a woman moderated presidential debates: the crashing of the World Trade Center, the election of our first African-American president and an increasing involvement of women in politics – or so it would seem.
Sammi Siegel: In past twenty years, they have made up zero percent of the moderators of the presidential debates.
Elena Tsemberis: Women and men will never be truly equal in our country until they’re one in the same in positions of power and both visible in politics. Please, in one of the three upcoming presidential debates, appoint a woman moderator.
Jessica: That’s from a letter written by these three teens – Emma Axelrod, Sammi Seigel and Elena Tsemberis. They wrote it last spring after learning something at school that they found shocking.
Sammi: It was brought to our attention that there hadn’t been a female presidential debate moderator in two decades, which is longer than any of us have even been alive.
Emma: That says a lot about where America thinks it is as far as gender equality and where it actually is. Because there’s a common misconception that women and men are equal in our country. If we see an issue that we want to change why not do something. I mean, it’s so simple.
Jessica: So they simply posted their letter at Change.org, a website where people try to bring attention to issues with online petitions.
Sammi: Within a week we had 100,000 signatures.
Jessica: Were you surprised by that?
Sammi: I was amazed at 40 the first night. And then when I woke up next morning it was 400 and it just kept going up and up and up.
Elena: We would be in class with our iPhones refreshing every five seconds to see how many it went up. And at one point, it went up 88,000 in two hours.
Jessica: Traditionally, it’s the Commission on Presidential Debates, an organization set up by both the Republican and Democratic parties, that selects the moderators.
Emma: The way that Change.org works is every time that somebody signs our petition, a letter that we’d already written gets sent via email to The Commission signed by the person who signed petition.
Jessica: The girls’ petition got about 122,000 signatures! That meant the Commission on Presidential Debates received 122,000 emails.
But the girls didn’t stop there. In late July, they traveled to The Commission’s headquarters in Washington, DC.
Sammi: We had these decorative boxes full of the printed out comments for our petition and a flash drive with all the signatures. And we went up there and we tried to go into their office but we were turned away by security. We didn’t even see a secretary or any board member. We weren’t received at all.
Jessica: Did you ever make contact with them?
Emma: No. They have yet to acknowledge that we exist.
Jessica: Less than two weeks later, The Commission announced their moderators for the presidential debates. And for the first time in two decades, a woman was chosen: CNN’s Candy Crowley.
Elena: We never really had anyone in particular in mind, so the choice of any female to moderate a presidential debate this year was a thrill for us.
Emma: The fact they’re finally deciding to take half of the population into account – it’s about time.
Jessica: The presidential commission says the girls’ petition did not influence their decision. The Commission told Channel One News the moderators were actually selected before the teens started their petition.
But even if they didn’t directly impact The Commission, the girls say they have learned a small act can spark a big change.
Emma: It took about ten or fifteen minutes to write that petition and look what happened. If everyone who had a valid concern about our country or social rights, social justice, took the time to try and do something about it, think about what we could accomplish.
Jessica: Jessica Kumari, Channel One News.
- Why did Emma, Sammi and Elena decide to post their letter on Change.org?
- What arguments did they use to support their case?
- How does Change.org work?
- What was their reaction to the number of responses they got from their letter?
- How did the Commission on Presidential Debates respond to their visit and the emails?
- Who is Candy Crowley?
- What role does the moderator play in the debate?
- What did the girls learn from this experience?