Lauren Perl spent her summer conducting research on digital terrorism for the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.
The 16 year old separates her many activities into three categories: politics, “environmental stuff” (like hiking) and theater.
Lauren, who lives in Olney, is the director of field organization for MoCo Students for Change, founded following the mass shooting last year in Parkland, Fla. She also started her school’s chapter of Amnesty International in ninth grade, through which she organizes events at Poolesville High School.
“I definitely work myself to the bone. But also all of my activities interconnect very much,” Lauren said. “All these groups are fighting for the same causes.”
Every day, Lauren takes the hour-and-a-half bus ride to school, where she is a junior in the global ecology program. Lauren said the magnet program and school environment is worth the schlep. She participates in the theater program after school.
“You have kids coming from all over who want to be [in school]. And that makes all the difference,” she said. “My teachers can actively tell you what’s going on in my life at any moment. And the sort of work that you do in these programs is just incredibly unique.”
For example, her freshman class took a trip to Roosevelt Island, where they walked around and categorized each tree by type and coordinates.
“From there, we coded our own GPS system to put these coordinates in, and from there, we saw what type of trees grow on which sections of the island and we can tell soil acidity on different parts of the island,” Lauren said.
Her position with MoCo Students for Change includes getting permits for protests and vigils and organizing hearings with the school board. She said the group’s current focus is putting pressure on Montgomery County Public Schools to redraw boundary lines to desegregate schools.
“There’s no reason why those borders can’t be [changed] to fix [segregation] and benefit everybody,” Lauren said, “because you get lifted up by the peers who you’re around.”
This type of activism isn’t unique in Lauren’s family; she said her father, mother, uncle and aunt have all been involved in protests and always advocated for Jewish rights. The Simon
Wiesenthal Center, where she researched digital terrorism this summer, has honored Lauren’s grandfather William Perl several times for his work rescuing about 40,000 Jews from Germany during the Holocaust.
“[Digital terrorism is] just the dissemination of hate speech online. So what I was specifically focusing on was podcasts and anti-Semitism in music. So those were my specialties,” Lauren said.
She wasn’t supposed to specialize in anti-Semitism research, she said, but it was the most prevalent type of hate speech in the mediums she researched.
“It’s so easily disguised as anti-Zionism,” Lauren explained. “I would also argue it’s one of the more international hatreds, so I would always find videos in Spanish, or in Arabic, and so just that made that material absolutely abundant.”
She put more than 1,000 items in a spreadsheet organized by how many views each piece had, the country of publication, what type of account it came from and whether there were outside links. Much of the material came from Scandinavia, Lauren said, and was related to the pro-Europa movement.
Most interestingly, she said, a new form of hate speech uses Fortnite and Minecraft videos to disseminate their messages.
“The reason why that’s particularly bad is because that’s aimed at kids,” Lauren said. “It’s like those videos are just asking to recruit little kids into this reign of, like, white nationalism.”
The biggest challenge of being involved with so many things? “Keeping my sanity, and also knowing what to prioritize.”
In her spare time, Lauren reads, watches comedy shows like “Saturday Night Live,” arranges piano music to fit her playing skills and goes hiking and backpacking.
She spent the summer in Los Angeles with her three older siblings, whom she says are her biggest role models.
“We’re all up in each others’ business all the time,” Lauren said, “and it kind of motivates us to be the best form of ourselves, just because you have a whole family to be accountable to.”
When she gets to college, Lauren hopes to major in public policy and minor in music theory. And she plans to continue her activism.
“It’s almost like an empowerment thing for me. I like the idea that I’m doing something really important that benefits other people,” Perl said. “I’m just trying to level the playing field.”