The most impactful class Maggie Brown took at Staples High School was Advanced Placement Government. Instructor Suzanne Kammerman opened her eyes to the world around, sparked a goal to vote in every election, and led in part to Maggie’s current project: a weekly newsletter that provides subscribers with opportunities to become activists.
But Maggie also remembered her sophomore chemistry class, with Tony Coccoli. She learned that a catalyst precipitates change.
So she named the newsletter that she and 2 longtime friends from Camp Scatico started “The Catalyst.”
Maggie is a 4th generation Westporter. At Staples she served on the Student Assembly executive board. She majored in political science at Washington University, and made sure last fall to be back in Westport to vote in the election.
It did not matter that the candidates were for local races. “The Board of Education has a big effect on kids’ lives, and how the entire community lives,” Maggie points out. “People put a lot of time into serving. It’s important to vote.”
This spring, after George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor “and so many other people whose names we don’t know” were killed, Maggie texted and FaceTimed classmates and friends.
They discussed the privileges they share, realized they “could do more, and do better,” and wondered how they could learn and grow.
Her solution: to create a weekly list of actionable steps.
She and Catalyst co-founders Emma Bochner and Amanda Hartstein work entirely by Zoom. They meet 5 or 6 times a week, compiling topics they think are important for people — particularly their peers — to learn more about. They include voting, the environment, and LGBTQ issues.
In these rapidly changing times, the curators are flexible. A couple of weeks ago, they were all set to send out their newsletter. Suddenly, ICE threatened to deport international college students who do not attend in-person classes this fall.
Maggie and her Catalyst crew scrapped their original plans. They produced a newsletter that included an email to the House Committee on Immigration and Citizenship to overturn the ban; a Change.Org petition, plus links to college-specific petitions at dozens of institutions; links to 5 organizations working on ICE-related issues, and a trailer for “Living Undocumented,” the Netflix series on immigration.
The Catalyst launched earlier this month. They’ve already got nearly 1,000 subscribers.
“We worried about being just another newsletter,” Maggie says. “We try to keep it succinct. We send it out Monday morning, so people can start their week with action steps. People tell us they feel good about having concrete ways to help.”
The Catalyst is not, Maggie says, a vehicle for the founders’ personal opinions. Nor is it “an all-inclusive list of what you should be doing.”
Of course, a weekly newsletter does not pay the bills. Maggie just started a full-time job, as a paralegal. Her Catalyst work takes place before and after hours, during what little free time she has.
That suits her fine.
“Activism is never easy,” she notes. “It’s hard fought. Working for change is constant.”
There it is: a catalyst at work.