Working on his first Senate campaign at fifteen, planning a school-wide March For Our Lives walkout, and attending a six-week Democracy Summer Program in Maryland before his first year of college, Michael Nevett (C '22) is no stranger to the world of politics.
It is not a surprise that Michael's nascent passion followed him all the way to Penn, where he serves as Political Director of Penn Democrats. In this position, he covers “basically everything related to the primary,” as well as recruiting speakers to campus. In the fall, Michael will be working to flip Pennsylvania from red to blue in both the presidential and congressional elections.
He describes Penn Dems as “a cohort of about 200 students who are interested in politics and who want to make a difference on behalf of Democratic values.”
“We've had prominent speakers like senator Bob Casey, attorney general Josh Shapiro, and a lot of local politicians as well, which gives our students great exposure to what things are like in the Philadelphia area of politics and a chance to learn more about what's going on in national politics as well. We've also had a number of panels on topics like gun control, reproductive rights, immigrant rights, and the environment. Our goal is really educating the campus and making sure that people are familiar with these issues and so we can work together to make progressive change.”
Penn Dems isn’t the only political organization where Michael has taken on a leadership role. Shortly after the Parkland shooting, he became heavily involved with March For Our Lives in his hometown, Bethesda, Maryland. He “helped plan a walkout for high schoolers in the DC area for several thousand students, [and] Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and Bernie Sanders all spoke.”
On March 24, 2018—the day of the march—Michael and a few friends worked to find people from the area to volunteer their houses for out of-town students to stay. As a result, over 300 students received free housing, transportation, and dinner for the night.
He also helped plan a rally in Annapolis to protest the governor’s response—or lack thereof— surrounding the Capital Gazette shooting: “We insisted that the governor wasn’t doing enough to end gun violence. He wouldn’t meet with school shooting survivors from the state and he still took support from the NRA.”
The Republican governor “ended up refusing NRA support” which Michael accredits to “the event [getting] so much attention. He also took the meeting with the students and pushed support for issues we cared about. That was definitely something that I think was particularly impactful.”
Michael continued to work with March For Our Lives once he came to Penn:
“They actually shipped me 500 shirts” which he jokes was “a lot for a quad dorm room.” He collaborated with Penn Dems and handed out the t-shirts on Locust Walk in October of his first year. One hundred people pledged to vote and fifty registered that day.
For students who are just dipping their feet into politics and would like to get more involved, Michael’s advice is to first “make sure that you’re informed about the issues,” adding that attending Penn Dems events is a great way to garner this education. After that, he says, “just throw yourself out there and do something completely outside your comfort zone.”
This past semester, Michael took the class “Communications and the Presidency," which is taught by Professor David Eisenhower, the grandson of past-President Dwight Eisenhower and son-in-law of Richard Nixon. The class required students to go to a presidential library for their final research paper.
Michael focused on a comparison of the Nixon and Trump impeachments. He immersed himself for two days with past Nixon documents and recorded speeches at the Richard Nixon Library and Museum in Southern California. After following the ongoing impeachment process of President Trump all summer, Michael remembers “just a few weeks before the essay was due, the Trump impeachment vote actually happened and I was at home in the DC area. So I actually went and sat in the gallery and watched as this historic event was happening.”
As for his current role as Political Director, Michael states, “I've definitely been mostly focused on 2020 just because this is such a critical year, both at the presidential level as well as the state legislative level.” As opposed to 2018, which was “mostly campaigning” and 2019, which was “more policy,” Michael isn’t sure how the balance of the two will show up in 2020. However, he is sure about one thing: that we are in the midst of “one of the most interesting times in Philadelphia political history.”
He points to the city council races last year as an example of the recent changes surrounding the “machine politics” of the area. Penn Dems supported an insurgent candidate, Jamie Gauthier, who “beat a city councilor who had been in office in Penn’s district for 20 years and her husband for 20 years before that.” Michael also mentions Kendra Brooks’ victory, representing the growth of the Working Families Party.
Michael’s favorite politician, however, remains Jamie Raskin, his representative from Maryland, because he is a “constitutional scholar really smart on legislation and political philosophy” and also organized the democracy summer camp that he attended before coming to Penn.
Michael jokingly reveals that he is “the only politician whose sticker is currently on my laptop.” It truly doesn’t get any more official than that.