While at the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles last month, Angela Ards, a contributing editor at Ms. magazine and a fellow at the Nation Institute, caught up with some politically savvy sisters. Here’s what they had to say on issues that matter to them and the power of the vote:
‘I Need to Be More Involved’
Mel Preimesberger, of Los Angeles brought her daughter, Calais, 18, to the convention so she could get a taste of the political process this first year she’s eligible to vote. A sophomore at Simon’s Rock College of Bard in Massachusetts, Calais had spent much of the summer in France working on her photography. She’d hoped the protesters outside the DNC would provide a few shots for her portfolio, but she got way more than she bargained for.
Calais: One woman was showing the bruises from a rubber bullet. She’s been vocal, and I notice how the police are now standing near her. I’m just shocked at this whole scene. Photographers. Journalists. Delegates. Police. And protesters. I’m surprised that we’re all, that these people here want to get involved, whatever their personal reason is. I just turned 18, and I can vote this November. I need to be more involved. Being down here has shown me that.
Mel: And what about those children you took the pictures of in the shopping cart with their father? They were across the street, looking on to this like outsiders. Obviously homeless. What a statement. It’s like you’re here getting this little piece of America [at the Democratic National Convention], but that’s the sliver that they’re allowed to have.
Why Voting Matters
Danielle Farve, 18, Ontario, California
“I look around at my peers and I realize that they feel no one is listening to them and they just think, ‘Why bother to register and to go and vote?’ But then I read an article by Karenna Gore [Al Gore’s daughter] in Newsweek, and she said that one good way for youth to get involved in politics is to log on to the YouthVote 2000 Web site. So I volunteered. I now get updates on YouthVote activities in my area. My dad always told me that as a Black person it’s very important to vote because people died for this right.”
Careers on Capitol Hill
Tammy Boyd, 27, a senior policy advisor for Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, has been in politics for three years. Lisa Sherrod, 26, with two years of politics under her belt, is a confidential assistant to Rep. Kenneth E. Bentsen Jr. of Texas.
Tammy: There’s a real need for African Americans to be on Capitol Hill, because if we’re not at the table then our voices won’t be heard. Hispanics are at the table, Asians are at the table-everybody speaks to their issues. And not just in office, but behind the scenes. In terms of minorities on the Hill, if the minority congresspeople don’t employ them, they won’t be there. Other congresspeople don’t seem to be concerned about that.
Lisa: I don’t see life without politics. It’s my destiny, in terms of making an impact and helping people. You don’t see a lot of young people at the DNC because they’re not exposed to [the political process]. If they were exposed, they would love to be on the Hill.
ESSENCE: How do we bring more people to the Hill?
Lisa: Internship programs. Through our sororities, through our organizations, our companies.
Tammy: Our alumni associations. Every school that comes through our office, I mean Michigan, Harvard, University of Texas, they have programs set up. Few HBCUs have [alumni internship] programs set up like that.
Lisa: Exactly, and it’s nothing but a phone call. Call up a representative and say, “Hey, we would like to have our internship programs participate through your office.”
Tammy: They won’t turn you down.
On Affirmative Action
Kristina Sutton, 16, a member of the Junior Statesmen Foundation, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that educates young people about the political process.
“Gore definitely speaks to young women on the issue of affirmative action. My parents have three kids. By the time I’m a senior in college, they’ll have two kids in college and one coming in. So it’s going to be really hard for them. We’re trying to get jobs out there in the workforce and a lot of people perceive us as being incapable. So it’s just really important for me to honor what our forefathers and foremothers have done for us, to uphold what they have always stood for, and what they fought for-for me.”
Why ‘I’m Voting for Nader’
Sherry Chovan, 22, an English major at Santa Monica College
“I’m voting for Ralph Nader. I’d never vote for George Bush. And voting for Al Gore is pretty much the same thing. I’ve listened to Nader talk about the environment and drug policies, and he’s expressing things that I feel. They say that if you vote for Nader you’re throwing your vote away, but that’s not true. Nader would be more for women and people of color than the other two would. They’re saying they are, but you know the truth.”
Tax Breaks for Tuition
Erica Sowell, 18, who’s with the Junior Statesmen Foundation
“By biggest concern is college education. To go to a quality college now is $30,000 a year. My parents don’t have enough money to pay for that, and I love the way that Gore is for college funding and [tax breaks for tuition]. That directly spoke to me. Next year, I’m off to college, and I’m already like, ‘How am I gonna get to school?'”