Young people often assume that voting is the only way to actively participate in politics. However, this LEADS Day program on Friday, February 14th, defeated that notion. In this session, titled Grassroots Political Organizing, we came together at the Farmers Branch City Hall, sitting right in the very same room where the City Council meets to discuss local issues. Together, we participated in an engaging discussion led by three incredible speakers: Jason Green, co-founder of the technology start-up SkillSmart who also worked on Obama’s presidential campaign; Ben Sheehan, author of OMG WTF intending to engage the public in politics via humor; and Cristal Retana, the first Latina woman to serve on the Farmers Branch City Council.
We started by discussing voter suppression and potential roadblocks to getting involved in elections. Since Cristal Retana is the second minority ever on the City Council despite the fairly large Hispanic population, this is an issue very significant to her. Not only is representation in political office important, but so is representation among voters. A lot of voter suppression of minorities exists out of fear. People, specifically in Farmers Branch, hesitate to draw attention to themselves, which is a part of the problem. This applies a lot to the minority population, but we are working to combat that.
As a contributor to Obama’s campaign, Jason Green has a great understanding of the electoral process. He told us, “There are different politics at play on the local, state, and national levels, and all present an opportunity to get involved.” His most important message for us is that turnout matters so much. All of the elections influence each other, and civic engagement is so vital in our community.
We also talked about the positive effects of integrating humor with politics. Humor creates a human connection. As Ben Sheehan notes, humor is surprising and catches you off guard, but also shows the truth. We must present politics in a way that isn’t boring. If it’s interesting and funny, then it is an easy way to start a conversation about it.
All of this demonstrates that you don’t have to be a certain age to perform multiple civic actions to contribute to politics besides voting. It is so important to get involved and get out there. Find out if there is a youth commission in your city. Write to a representative. Make your voice heard. As a young person, there is so much you can do to get civically engaged in your community and it is time to start.
Ashley Faber is a BBG from CSR and loves to play the violin.
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