3 Questions with Albuquerque Academy Senior Marly Fisher

(Courtesy Marly Fisher)

Grownups, after a certain age, tend to forget what it was like to be a teenager—a “yute,” as everyone’s favorite cousin from New York would say. They’re all too often viewed as apathetic and unaware of the big scary world around them, or uninformed or inexperienced. Enter four teens from the Albuquerque Academy.

Noor Ali, Sophia Liem, Mireya Macias and Marly Fisher have been making headlines recently for their advocacy on House Bill 134 that would, if passed, require free menstruation products in school bathrooms. The four girls have been racking up unexcused absences to lobby legislators and testify in committee hearings. Their take on missing school is becoming somewhat of a catchphrase: They’re missing school so others don’t have to.

SFR pulled Fisher, who wants to get a degree in political science and maybe try law school after that, away from the stacks of papers she’s catching up on to ask her a few questions about the life of a teen who’s arguably more engaged than some adults we know. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You all have seen a lot of attention, particularly because we don’t often see people your age getting involved like this. Walk us through how it all started.

The initiative began in our own school, just from a personal standpoint of wanting menstrual products in our bathrooms. We’ve all felt the stigma and the shame of not having products available...having to choose between discomfort and missing class. It was a pretty universal issue for all of us, but it was kind of an invisible one. It took a quick conversation with our headmaster, and a week later, the bathrooms were stocked. We walked into the [sixth grade] bathroom to see how the system was going, and we saw a bunch of sticky notes covering the mirrors. They were sticky notes of gratitude, saying, ‘Thank you so much for doing this. We really appreciate it, you have no no idea how much it means to us.’ We realized that there was something more to be done with this issue. It’s not just an issue that affects Albuquerque Academy. It’s an issue that affects the state and even the country.

We don’t often get to see people your age concerning themselves with local politics, and there’s this long-running idea that kids just don’t care. What’s your read on others your age and their level of civic engagement?

I think as a whole, teenagers don’t have a whole lot of civic engagement, because they believe that politics is kind of this intangible and uncontrollable force. But the civic engagement that we’ve been involved in has taught us the power of our voices. As we’ve learned from personal experience, the legislators are more inclined to listen to young people. I don’t think our bill would have gotten past the [House] Education Committee so soundly, if not for this outpouring of voices of the youth. I think we realized that teens don’t care because they don’t realize what they care about. When you start talking about an issue that matters to them, they become interested. We had been telling all of our friends and teens around the state about this issue, and it was only then that we were able to get so many testimonies because these people cared enough to do something about it. I do think that teens care. I do think that they want to be civically engaged. They just have to learn about an issue that matters to them. I think a lack of access to that is what stops them from doing something about it.

Many adults who have made the decision to do what you and your classmates are doing walk away disillusioned by the whole process. How are you all faring now that you’ve got a peek behind the curtain?

We definitely started the most naive I think we ever were. We saw an issue we cared about, and we thought we could bring it to the Legislature and everything will be fine and dandy. Our story kind of began that way, because the bill passed through the Education Committee unanimously. We got $1 million in funding secured, and we thought, ‘Oh, this is easy. I don’t know why more people don’t do this.’ But as we’ve gotten farther in the process, as we’ve asked for a bigger budget, as we peek behind the curtain, as you’re saying, we started to realize the truth about politics. It’s often said that politics is the art of compromise, but we didn’t realize that until recently. I think it’s easy to become disillusioned in the face of skepticism. But part of the reason we’re able to change that narrative, I think it’s because we’re the youth and because we care so much about an issue...But it’s definitely difficult. It’s not as easy as it might seem.

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