Sophomore Activist Talks Politics of Protest

Not just an influencer, but a fighter.

NYU Gallatin sophomore Kate Glavan who was almost arrested at the youth climate strike. (Staff Photo by Alina Patrick)

Posters ripped out of hands. Tasers brandished and waved at middle and high schoolers. Bodies pushed and jostled around. Phone numbers written down by lawyers on people’s arms. Threats of arrest.

When the New York Police Department arrived at 70th Street and Central Park West, kids rushed to leave, wanting to protect their records — some were in the midst of college applications and were worried about their futures. But not Kate Glavan.

“I was older,” she said. “I didn’t have as much to lose.”

Wearing a cinched white blouse, long nude skirt and pearl earrings, lanky Gallatin sophomore Glavan looked like a fashionable Mother Teresa, towering over and marching alongside middle and high school children during the Youth Climate Strike in New York City on March 15.

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Carrying a huge black banner with the words, “The youth are ready, when will you listen?”, the kids were crossing and blocking an intersection when the cops came and started ripping posters apart.

Kids and adults alike started linking arms in solidarity as they crossed the street. However, after the children started to disperse from the scene, the adults, including Glavan, maintained the ground.

When cops began yelling over megaphones that the people in the middle of the street were about to be arrested, Glavan, positioned on the edge of the street, decided that this moment wasn’t worth getting written down on her record.

“There wasn’t any injustice happening in the street that motivated me to be arrested,” Glavan said. “If it was something where someone was getting abused by the police, or there’s an unjust interaction and I needed to put my body out there for something, I would do it.”       

While she was one of the oldest participants at the strike, Glavan was in her early childhood when she first learned about activism from her parents. Advocacy has been part of her life since birth — she grew up seeing the way her parents would fight for her disabled twin brother to get healthcare and adequate help at school. In particular, she saw her mom work tirelessly to get their public school to provide accommodations such as hearing aids and a personal computer and fight pessimistic diagnoses doctors would give her brother.

“My brother wouldn’t have made it without her never taking no for an answer,” Glavan said. “My prior school district, insurance companies [and] our doctors all told my brother some form of no. Because my mother was fighting for him, he’s made it far beyond the projections they had for him at birth — to never talk [and] walk, and now he’s fully enrolled in a four-year college. There were so many larger fights along the way of our adolescence that I would simply hear about in the car on the way home or at the family dinner table. Politics was every day.”

Like mother like daughter, Glavan grew up learning how to be a fighter.

“My mom would always tell me that unless you fight for something or someone, nothing will change,” Glavan said. “That’s what drives me to wake up — to use any privilege I have to be a voice to fight for the voiceless.”

Her current focus on pre-law, politics and civil liberties drives her studies in Gallatin. While she sees fulfillment in being a lawyer in the future and working tirelessly to advocate for and represent minorities, Glavan fully admits to the privilege she has.

“I’m white, I come from a middle-class family and my parents are paying for my college,” Glavan said. “I worked hard to get scholarships, but I think that’s the kind of discussion that people don’t have — we don’t talk about money.”

Not only is Glavan aware of her personal privilege, but she even understands the racial disparity in the way people protest and the safety that is secured in her position.

“[The participants at the Youth Climate Strike were] mostly white, [and] I’m going to guess [they were] affluent kids,” Glavan said. “If you’re protesting Black Lives Matter, you might be [saying] ‘f-ck the police,’ but these kids weren’t doing anything that related to the cops.”

In addition, Glavan claims that matters of the environment don’t usually warrant police activity.

“I was just so surprised that the NYPD felt so threatened by the issue of climate change that they were like, ‘Oh, yeah, we’re going to rip these posters out of the [hands of these] kids,’” Glavan said.

The issue of climate change is something that Glavan not only feels very passionately about but hopes to put on everyone’s radar. After transitioning to a vegan lifestyle two years ago for environmental reasons, she realized contradictions in her plastic consumption and water usage, and sustainability became her focus. Beyond the conflict in her lifestyle choices, she finds herself torn between social media and how she chooses to portray her lifestyle.

While Glavan has around 2,500 Instagram followers and represents brands like Outdoor Voices, Mejuri and Glossier, she aims to set herself apart from the stereotypical beauty and fashion influencer by incorporating her political knowledge into her daily stories and posts.

“I think that knowing where you are [in the system], even if you do have this privilege in this one sense, you can still contribute and share your knowledge and your experience,” Glavan said.

Glavan also acknowledges the slacktivism stereotype that social media gets, but she debunks the idea that posts can’t make progress. She finds a platform with Instagram where she can reach out to people and give quick and easy ways to be more involved or aware of the ever-changing world and the social and political forces driving it.

“If I post something, and five people go and register to vote, that’s better than me trying to do the conventional ‘go talk on the street,’” Glavan said.

Her tactics seem to work as she receives many direct messages daily with thanks and questions that ask her to continue posting about her methods for zero-waste shopping and environmental book recommendations. Her followers and friends have also asked her to start a YouTube channel, but she wasn’t interested in generalizing her life and glorifying New York City in a three-minute video.

Instead, Glavan started a newsletter. She begins each post with a diary-style entry, appeasing her followers who craved day-in-the-life content, but her words entice her readers to continue scrolling down, where she includes a news roundup, fashion and beauty favorites, vegan recipes and zero-waste tips. Glavan proves that she doesn’t have to sacrifice her interests in style for her love of politics.       

Glavan, a self-proclaimed nerd who listens to political podcasts at 1.5 speed for fun, wants to make her daunting passions about law and government more attainable for those that don’t even know where to begin — she particularly targets students her age, with NYU voter turn-out at a low 47.8% in 2016.

“What I want to do is make politics digestible [for] the average person, make it a casual conversation and make it more commonplace,” Glavan said. “[With the newsletter,] I’ve just wanted to do something that people feel like they have a fluency and capacity to talk about areas they’re interested in.”

Whether you reach out to her on Instagram or spot her running around the West Village, Glavan will always be down to talk, welcoming the harder conversations about race, politics and the environment. As she aspires to be a voice for the voiceless, she can help us find our own voices in a world where it seems like we can only whisper.

A version of this article appears in the Monday, April 1, 2019, print edition. Email Anna de la Rosa at [email protected]

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