Volume 17 • Issue 23 | Oct. 29 - Nov. 4, 2004

Downtown Express photo by Ramin Talaie

Juliette Kessler hawking her wares in Washington Market Park last Saturday.

5th grader sells toys for Kerry

By Nancy Reardon

At only 10 years old, Juliette Kessler won’t be in the voting booth on Tuesday, but that hasn’t stopped her from stumping for her candidate.

Kessler raised $97 for Sen. John Kerry’s campaign in four hours in Washington Market Park’s Greenmarket last Saturday by selling her new and used toys priced from 25 cents to $3. Not only a persuasive saleswoman, Kessler was poised and ready for political debate.

The young Tribecan delivered pretty sharp attacks on President George W. Bush. “He started a war for no reason at all,” she said. “We’ve just found out there were no W.M.D. [weapons of mass destruction], so he was lying.”

But her expertise was not limited to foreign policy. Kessler said her candidate had one up on Bush with his economic policy. “Kerry will listen to the Constitution, which says, ‘All men are created equal,’” she said. “Bush hasn’t followed that. He’s given the rich people less taxes and the poor people more. That’s not fair.”

Kessler is a member of Kids for Kerry, an organization founded by 12-year-old Ilana Wexler, a political activist from Oakland, Calif. who has made appearances at late-night talk shows and the Democratic National Convention in Boston. Kessler’s mother, Asti Hustvedt, said Kids for Kerry sends weekly e-mail news updates that talk about issues in a kid-friendly way.

“She’s inherited a lot of our politics,” said Hustvedt, “but she’s thought about these issues a lot on her own.”

In an e-mail message to the paper, Kessler said she was worried about the cash taking too long to get to Kids for Kerry. Her parents used a credit card “so they can get it right away because there’s not much time left!”

Kessler, who does not have a television at home, said her parents read the newspaper and then discuss the news with her.

Kessler is a fifth-grader at P.S. 234, and she said she carries a backpack and lunchbox covered with plenty of partisan paraphernalia. Last Saturday, she wore buttons with slogans like, “Save the Environment: Replant a Shrub in Texas” and “2004: Vote ’em Out.”

Kessler participated in two protest marches this year, including one right before the Republican Convention here in New York where she walked with “John Kerry” painted on her arms.

Kessler’s jump into the realm of politics hasn’t made her a full-fledged fanatic just yet. When asked whether she would start to follow state and city politics, she wrinkled her nose and said, “Nah. That stuff is still pretty boring.”

And her own political aspirations are very humble: she doesn’t have any. “I really want to be an actress, maybe in the circus,” she said.

But the thought has crossed her mind. “I’m much smarter than Bush, and if I were president, I would change America back from what he’s turned it into.”

Kessler was not all heated rhetoric. Even at 10 years old, she offered a mature reflection: “I think Bush is a nice person,” she said, “but I think he’s a bad president.”

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