Former Congresswoman Discusses Civic Engagement, Importance of Informed Citizenry


Photo by Olivia De'Ath

Former Congresswoman Anne Marie Buerkle addresses students in the media center Oct. 16 about recognizing why their voice matters in the political process.

Elenna Mach, Editor-in-Chief

It’s not every day that students have the opportunity to meet a person who has the power to determine whether products in the U.S. are safe for consumers. Students had this opportunity when former New York congresswoman and current chairwoman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (USCPSC) came to speak to classes Oct. 16 in the media center.

English teacher Krista McKim’s Advanced Placement Language and Composition students as well as social studies teacher Beth Seabreeze’s law students gathered to listen to and meet with USCPSC chairwoman Ann Marie Buerkle as she discussed her career and experiences bringing change to the country.

Buerkle started her career in nursing and became an attorney for a teaching hospital for 13 years before becoming the Assistant New York State Attorney General from 1997 to 2010. She eventually ran and won a longshot race for the House of Representatives after becoming disenfranchised with the country’s direction.  After one term she was appointed as the chairwoman of the USCPSC by President Barack Obama and she remains in that post under current President Donald Trump.

Buerkle explained to students how important it is for citizens of all ages and backgrounds to be informed and engaged.

““I think that if you have an issue that’s important to you, number one, that you inform yourself so that you can inform someone else,” she said.  “But then, beyond informing yourself, I think it’s important not to be emotional, but to be factual and to make your case as if you were to be a lawyer.”

Each year, a member of Congress is invited to RHS to speak to students, with Congressman Jamie Raskin visiting in the spring. This year, Buerkle spoke about the Congressional atmosphere in the House, her experiences working in government and previous laws that she was involved in crafting, including the legislation addressing sexual assault in the VA system.

I’m slightly more faithful in people’s ability to change things in our country and in our government.        -junior Tomer           Atzili

”It’s interesting being in the legislative branch and being in the executive branch,” Buerkle said. “The executive branch and what I do know, you have much more direct contact and much more of a direct effect on people, companies and consumers, than you do in the House because when you’re in the House, you write a lot of bills and you pass them out of the House and then it goes to the Senate.”

While it is rare for students to hear directly from a government official, the purpose of the event was for students to learn valuable lessons and be encouraged to be proactive in their communities, said McKim, who coordinated with Buerke’s office to organize this guest visit.

“A lot of times, students think their voices don’t matter and that there’s nothing they can do to change the political atmosphere and I think it’s really important for them to hear from a representative that they listen to their constituents and that their voices matter and how to effectively advocate for their own issues to their congressman,” McKim said.

Having a high ranking official in society speak in a school setting can influence the way students see their importance as future voters and leaders in society and the impact that they can have.

“I’m slightly more faithful in people’s ability to change things in our country and in our government,” junior Tomer Atzili said. “I think it’s beneficial for people like her [Buerkle] to come in because [then students get] to see someone accomplished and important, and hear them talk about the opportunities that we will have to make an impact in the world.”

Buerkle discussed a many topics she encountered in her career but continued to return to how students can create change in the country through emphasizing that one needs to be informed, factual and persistent.

“It takes a while. You gotta build relationships in an elected officials office, you gotta find the right staff and you have to be persistent,” she said.