2020-2021 Model UN Final Report from Mr. Barton
Every June it is a custom to provide the wider school community with an account of the Booker T. Washington MS54 Model UN Delegation’s yearly progress.
QUALIFIED IMMUNITY RESEARCH
Last year, the pandemic struck and prevented the delegation from participating in any conferences. This forced the delegation to look inward and reinvent itself throughout the spring of 2020. When the school year ended, many of the rising eighth and ninth graders in the delegation continued to meet throughout the entire summer.
They had pledged, in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, to write to every member of the Supreme Court to persuade them to overturn the doctrine of qualified immunity. On this mission, they were joined by high school alumni who studied the backstory of this doctrine with them. This entailed investigating the workings of the Court, the nature of precedent, the history of policing in this country and all of the relevant case law, much of which, in both surprising and unsurprising ways, paralleled the history of the civil rights movement. In fact, as fate would have it, the final day of the first and last MS54 MUN Summer Institute, the day on which past and present delegates read aloud the whole text of the civil suit against Derek Chauvin, also turned out to be the day of the funeral of John Lewis.
Next, from August until October, these delegates began to draft personal letters to each of the twelve Justices, researching their judicial philosophies and past rulings. Delegates were encouraged to come up with their own free and conscious attitudes toward both the Court and qualified immunity, even while they worked through the difficulties of writing persuasively to such a diverse and difficult group of individuals. While engaging in this act of diplomacy, some of the delegates were beginning high school, others were starting the supremely difficult hybrid year of eighth grade. Nevertheless, they saw the letters through to the end and posted them. Along the way, the new eighth graders gained the research, organizational, and writing skills they needed to recreate the delegation in 2020-2021.
PREPARATION FOR IN-PERSON DEBATE
This delegation, now comprised of nearly 60 seventh and eighth graders, began meeting in November. In preparation, returning eighth graders had prepared for the logistical challenges of the year — the potential for disruption, swerving from hybrid to remote and back again, splitting into before and after-school halves on A days and C days, and enduring an elongated high school application process fraught with uncertainty. Because of their planning, the delegation met every day before school, Monday through Friday, November through May, and never missed a single day — not even pausing when the MUN advisor contracted COVID.
Over this period, in self-directed fashion, delegates published over 50 issues of the Gazette, their in-house newspaper, featuring long-form articles, essays, ripostes, histories, Socratic dialogues, advice columns, confessions, interviews and synopses of research. When hybrid returned in early spring, the delegation immediately began to experiment with in-person meetings both in the auditorium and in the courtyard of Booker T. This required advanced communication skills, great self-awareness, as well as a willingness to problem-solve cooperatively in the complex environment of COVID spatial requirements.
In the end, the entire delegation came together for three days of in-person debate — the first time in six months when all the delegates saw each other in three dimensions. With exemplary courage and energy, they overcame the psychological barriers of speaking, negotiating, and arguing after more than a year of two-dimensional Zoom squares. The last day of the debate in mid-May was attended by parents, friends, family, and former delegates who all contributed to the emotion of this unprecedented moment of restitution.
The topic of the debate was also the object of a half-year’s intensive study. Early on, the delegation chose, via democratic discussion, to eschew participation in any outside conferences. It reasoned that the effort it would take to prepare for a remote conference would be better directed at something entirely new, something more fitting to the special conditions of the COVID year and true to the historical moment. In a tense referendum, the delegation chose to study the problem of housing equity in New York City. Though this topic involves many traditional MUN issues — from law to political economy, from human rights to bureaucracy — it was a radical departure from the usual international scope of the United Nations.
NEW AREAS OF RESEARCH
Delegates took advantage of the shift in focus and opened up new areas of research and study by compiling micro-histories and analyzing the demographic, health, and economic data of NYC neighborhoods like Hunts Point, Sunset Park, and Long Island City.
They mapped all the overlapping, crazy-quilt boundaries of NYC political districts and jurisdictions and hunted down the contact information of department heads, executives, and representatives from the most local to the federal level. They conducted historical research into the Queensbridge Houses and studied the connection between housing and the development of hip hop. They learned about redlining in Bed-Stuy in the 1940s: the fires in the South Bronx in the 1970s; and gentrification of the Fulton Mall in the 2000s. They immersed themselves in Marx and Hayek.
In preparation for a debate about the aborted Amazon HQ2 project in Queens, they taught themselves about unions, lobbying, monopolies, real estate development, democratic decision making, municipal agencies, zoning laws and taxation. They also, in the depths of winter, conducted a block-by-block survey of all the vacant storefronts on the entire Upper West Side, assembling all their findings into a database. One delegate, inspired by this work, launched his own business during the pandemic to promote and sustain local restaurants.
The delegation made the most of the online world they were otherwise confined to — and, in not looking back, found that when they dropped the “model” part of Model UN, a whole new world had opened up. Realizing this, delegates reached out to, established contact with and arranged for live Q&As with mayoral candidates Paperboy Prince, Kathryn Garcia, Ray McGuire, and Eric Adams.
They consulted with City Council member, Helen Rosenthal; talked epidemic geography and economics with Dr. Blythe Adamson, who headed the national task-force that amassed respirators in Spring, 2020; had a long heart-to-heart with Mark Horvath, a formerly homeless person and recovering drug addict whose YouTube channel, Invisible People, subscribed to by the delegation, features humanizing in situ video interviews with homeless people across the country.
Finally, they struck up a foundational friendship with Shams DeBaron, AKA Da Homeless Hero, who joined them for an epic three-hour session on zoom along with over 200 delegation alumni, some of whom were running mayoral campaigns, others working in law, medicine, journalism, education, scientific research, humanities, linguistics, consulting, investment banking, tech, political advocacy, city planning and grassroots organizing.
MS54 MODEL UN TWITTER ACCOUNT
Much of their interaction in preparation for these events was conducted on the newly founded MUN Twitter account, @MS54MUN. This account was a laboratory for positive, real-world political outreach and organizing — a medium for the whole delegation to democratically decide upon matters of tone and policy with foresight and care. In the end, many of their tweets were retweeted and publicly commented upon by the above figures.
After the final day of their culminating debate, at the climax of which they were addressed in person by Da Homeless Hero, they resolved to embark upon other projects over the last month of school and into the summer — to write Wikipedia articles on the Lucerne crisis and the Industry City Development controversy; and, inspired by a recommendation from Mark Horvath, founder of Invisible People, to distribute socks to unhoused individuals on the Upper West Side.
2020-2021 MS54 MODEL UN DELEGATION MEMBERS
The members of the 2020-2021 delegation were (in alphabetical order by first name): Addie Sutfin, Andrea Wang, Annie Bovitz, Arash Moussavi, Arianna Ahmed, Astrid Clayton, Astrid Harrington, Becca Supcoff, Bennet Askenazi, Boone Ireland, Brooke Zaslow, Celia Lambert, Daniel Schneiderman, Ela Behrstock, Emma Kitaygorodsky, Ewan Roberts, Fatemah Alloo, Florencia Vergote, Georgina Barth, Giselle Legome, Hadrien Langlois, Haidon Kissane, Henry Dahl, Ila Misra, Isabel Goldfarb, Isabel Vanderveen, Josephine Yoo, Kourosh Moussavi, Leo Schneiderman, Lindsay Sander, Madalee Weissman, Madeleine Moser, Maia Dildy, Michael Sorgen, Nia Abrams, Nirvan Mulchandani, Nora Torok, Ocean Hiller, Riya Sundaram, Ruby Kennedy, Sachin Tanikella, Sadie Linnick, Sarah Fish, Sean Chew, Simone Ginsberg, Sonali Campbell, Sophia Tesfaye, Sophie Brettschneider, Soraya Kamath, Suren Reddy, Susanna Steinberg, Taliah Wasserman, Ushoshi Das, Vikram Pallan, Xander Christian, Zach Bender and Zachary Hirsch.
MS54 Model UN's delegation is chosen afresh every year. The delegates are seventh and eighth graders recommended by the school's teachers through extensive interviews and, as such, are representatives of the whole community.