As I have talked about before, I was the founder of my high school’s first political organization, called “High School Democrats.” The purpose of the group was to meet to talk about political news and to campaign for liberal candidates in local elections. The vision was to become a force in Mecklenburg politics – my friends, Alvin and Youssef, helped me lead the club, and we all agreed that we wanted Lake Norman Charter High School to become an icon of youth activism in our county. We had about fifteen people who regularly attended meetings, mostly female and mostly white. The organization didn’t start until pretty late, relative to other clubs at school – our first meeting was in September, only two months before the 2018 election. The group started out with momentum. I was surprised by the high turnout after low publicity for the interest meeting, and everyone had high hopes about what we could do together.
At the first meeting, I made a pitch about our power – I told everyone a story about an election I had worked on over the summer in a district (Ohio’s 12th Congressional) that President Trump had won by 11 percent in 2016, but with thousands of local activists and organizers working together, we were able to help a Democrat, Danny O’Connor, close the gap by 10 percent. I thought the story would be convincing and that it would excite people. I name dropped local candidates, said things were looking good for Democrats but that nothing would happen if we didn’t work. I ended the meeting by telling everybody what they could do to help – give phone calls, knock on doors, make postcards, and whatever else they could think of. I thought it was a pretty common sense speech, but looking back, I missed the bar on so many levels.
The first mistake I made was centering my pitch around the success of a party. If I wanted to be inclusive, I should have listened to the concerns and motivation of the friends and strangers alike who showed up for our meetings. Many of these people had real concerns… over healthcare, college costs, gun safety, LGBTQ+ rights, etc… concerns that I didn’t bother to address or ask about. We had a clear process and purpose, but like I said, our “why” wasn’t nearly as developed as our “what” and “how.” We also made the mistake of not having any kind of election for our leadership – my aforementioned friends, Alvin and Youssef, and I thought that since we were the founders that we deserved to be the leaders. Perhaps, however, someone else may have been a better, more personable, leader and been more inclusive of our membership. Empowerment of those who turned out in the interest of our democracy should have been a top priority. The club turned out to be a total mess. We only ever had three meetings, and we never knocked a single door, registered a single voter, made a single phone call, or wrote a single postcard as a group.
Despite my failures to do anything significant with the High School Democrats, I did learn quite a bit as it relates to my current plans for the service action proposal. My goal, with whatever organization I decide to team up with, is to relieve the structural burdens beared by so many of my fellow North Carolinians – the same goal I have when I work in the political arena, just with different means. As of right now I want to be directly inclusive and empowering of the people whom my work will affect, hearing from them what they need in their lives and in their communities, and how I can deliver on that need. Ethics are another important step in creating the big, structural changes that my community needs to improve itself. We need to encourage suburban towns like mine to grow sustainably, in a way that leaves no one behind. I’m concerned that the people who run Huntersville are more focused on hiding the parts of their town that they aren’t proud of instead of embracing all of their citizens and making sure that they have a stake in the continued growth of the town. I’m unsure of the process by which i’ll go about this, which ties back to inclusivity. I don’t want to do something the way I think it’s best, I want to listen to the people i’m doing it for on how they want me to serve them – that’s the whole point of this. I’ve explained the purpose of this already, interspersed throughout the reflection, but i’ll say it again in short: help drive big, structural change to the people who need it most, whether they are affected by poverty, or discrimination, or homelessness, or all of the above.