Young Politicians on the Rise in D.C.

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Washington, D.C. has recently seen a rise in new young talent. However, it has not come without resistance and many of these young people have not been received with open arms. D.C. has an entrenched political guard that is resistant to any change that doesn’t include them. For decades political leaders have failed to engage young people in the political process. When a young person decides to run for office some often say, “it is not their time” or “they are too young” and even the phrase often heard, “they need to wait their turn.” Quite often people cite experience and readiness, as reasons for resistance of youth in politics. However, if history has taught us anything, it is that young people have been at the forefront of many changes whether it is political or social.

The last two election cycles have shown us that new generations of political leaders are emerging. In 2010 Nate Ben­ning-Flemming, a ward 8 resident, ran a historic campaign to become the District’s Shadow Representative, coming just short of a victory. In the most recent special election, there were also two young can­didates running. Joshua Lopez, a former ward 4 ANC Commissioner ran for the At- Large seat and Trayon White, a small non-profit business owner out of ward 8, ran for the Ward 8 State Board of Education. White was overwhelmingly elected, be­coming the youngest person ever to hold that seat, shaking up the political guard in ward 8. He has become a shining example of the youth in DC politics and now represents the potential possibilities that other aspiring youth can look forward to. It is also worth noting that each of the three aforementioned men is less than 30 years of age.

Across the city other young Wash­ingtonians are being elected as Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners. Ward 8 has bright stars among their ranks including William Ellis and Darrell Gaston and Ward 3 has William Phillip Thomas another rising star in local politics.

In 1935 the American Youth Con­gress was established, composed of youth across America, to discuss the problems facing youth as a whole and to advocate for youth rights in U.S. politics. In the 1960s a substantial number of America’s youth joined the Civil Rights Movement and contributed their efforts to the struggle. One of the principal organizations under the Civil Rights Movement was the Stu­dent Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), organized and run by students in the Deep South. Even before this, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) had several youth councils established.

The sentiment that young people governing their community are unable to fulfill their duties is not true. At the age of 18 young people begin paying taxes, all males are required to register for the selec­tive service and they gain the right to vote in local, federal and national elections. These are all responsible activities that youth participate in.

If you look to the past success of youth in politics there is a rich history. Even here in DC, Former Mayor and cur­rent Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry started his career out in his early 20s as a fire brand activist fighting for equality and against racism, elected First Chairman of SNCC in his late 20s. Phinis Jones a ward 8 icon also started out in his early 20s as a young activist fighting to bring equality to a neglected population. And recent past Mayor Adrian Fenty was elected council­member at the age of 30.

Despite the negative feedback, young people should keep pressing for­ward with new energy and ideas unde­terred and willing to shake things up. The future looks bright and I am encouraged to see so many new faces taking owner­ship of their neighborhoods and getting involved in local politics. Elections are right around the corner. What changes would you like to see in 2012 and 2014? Remem­ber if we “keep electing the same people we will get the same results.”

 

Joshua Lopez contributed to this article.

Joshua is a native Washingtonian, a former ANC commissioner, 1st Vice President of the Ward 4 Democrats and 2011 At Large Council candidate. Joshua is a proud alum of the University of the District of Co­lumbia and currently resides in Ward 4.

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