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Three Teenagers Petition for a Female Moderator of Presidential Debate

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

A woman hasn’t run a presidential debate in twenty years. When three high school girls from New Jersey heard about this in their civics class, they decided to take matters into their own hands. Emma Axelrod, Sammi Siegel and Elena Tsemberis have spent their summer collecting 170,000 signatures on a petition to have one of this year’s presidential debates moderated by a woman. But will Capitol Hill listen to them? 

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So far, not so good.

This week, the trio headed over to the office of the Commission on Presidential Debates to hand in their petition–and they were turned away, and told that they would not be permitted to leave the packages of signatures in case they contained dangerous materials. Axeldrod, who will be going into her junior year of high school this fall, spoke to NPR’s Audie Cornish about that experience:

It’s discouraging not to be listened to, especially as three high school girls trying to make a change in our country for the better, for equal representation of our gender. You know, we put a lot of time into this. One of the petitioners, Elena Tsemberis, is missing volleyball camp to be here. You know, we’re really dedicated, so the lack of response that we’re experiencing is a little bit disappointing, especially since so many Americans have backed us up and told the commission and the Obama, Romney campaigns that this is something that matters to them as well. And the debates serve to inform the American people, so their requests should be answered.

The clock is ticking, as well; the commission is set to name its debate moderators at a meeting in mid-August. the debates themselves are scheduled for October 3rd in Denver, CO, October 16th at Hofstra University, and October 22nd in Boca Raton, FL.

Working with, the girls have put together two petitions asking for female moderators–one targeted at the commission, and one targeting the Obama and Romney campaigns, who can also have a sizable influence over who is chosen to moderate the political showdowns. The former has 116,000 signatures, the latter 53,000.

They started the petitions after they were flabbergasted to learn in their high school civics class just how long it had been since a woman had moderated such an event–since Carole Simpson had moderated one between then-democratic nominee Bill Clinton and then-President George H.W. Bush at the University of Richmond. Axelrod spoke of her frustration over this huge gap of time (emphasis ours):

When we learned that there’s been 20 years since a woman moderated, that gap shocked us so much that we almost couldn’t believe it. And it seems so doable to just have them pick a woman this election. There is such an abundance of strong, capable, nonpartisan, unbiased female journalists for them to choose from and it seems like a really good place to start and sort of begin to equal out the representation.

File this one under kick-ass young people doing awesome things. The next time someone tells me that this generation is too busy navel-gazing and playing Angry Birds to be productive contributing members of society, I will point them to these girls–and this one, and this one, too. There is no mandate that says teenagers have to be apathetic and self-centered, and it’s cases like these that prove that they can at times have a lot more moxie (and maturity) than a lot of adults can muster up.

If you’re interested, you can sign their petition here.

(via NPR)

(Image via NY Daily News)

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Alanna Bennett
Alanna is a pop culture writer who works as the Weekend Editor for The Mary Sue, an entertainment writer for Bustle, and a freelancer for everywhere. She has a lot of opinions about Harry Potter and will 100% bully you into watching the shows that she loves. Don't worry, it's a sign of friendship.

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