“Let Luqman Stay:” One University Experiences the Power of Students’ Determination

Nyeleti Honwana, Columnist

Luqman Onikosi was born in Ijebu Ode in South Western Nigeria. He was a bright young man with big dreams, and he knew that he would one day leave his home town. After six years of struggling to obtain entry into the UK, he was granted a student’s visa to attend the University of Sussex. In January 2007, he began undergraduate studies at the university in Economics and International Relations.

However, months into his first year, Onikosi’s sponsor unexpectedly passed away and because of restrictions that prevent international students from working more than 20 hours a week, he was unable to pay his annual course fees. Onikosi suddenly was confronted with the reality that he wouldn’t be able to continue his studies. However, together with tutors, the University of Sussex’s Student Union, USSU, and a charity, he was able to pay the steep fees and sit his summer exams.

Even though he could complete his first year, tuition fees were a constant burden on him, and in his second year he appealed to the university to reduce his fees because of his personal circumstances. Feeling that Onikosi was justified in his request, USSU together with a number of fervent students created the Facebook group titled ‘Let Luqman Stay’ in April 2008, a campaign that called on “the University of Sussex to permit Luqman Onikosi…the right to study.” With over 700 members, the group advocated for the reduction, or abolition, of Onikosi’s course fees.  They stated that:

“Luqman is a fantastic and able student, not just in terms of his academic aptitude but also in terms of his contribution to student life on campus where he is the Black Students’ Officer for the University of Sussex Students’ Union. His activism at local and national level has inspired hundreds of fellow students and he is regarded to be one of the most active student activists in the country.”

It was at this time that I met Luqman. I had heard about his situation, and as a fellow international student, I understood the pressures of paying the exorbitant tuition fees. However, I soon found out that we had more in common than just our foreigner’s status. Onikosi was a student who wanted the full university experience; he was engaged in campus life, politically aware and approachable. It is a testament to his character that nearly 1,000 students rallied around him during the campaign. It was because of these reasons that I, too, pledged to help in any way I could.

The Facebook group continued to spread awareness of Onikosi’s situation around campus.  However, our efforts went unrecognized by the university. Moreover, it was at this time that the USSU took a step back from Onikosi’s case. Because of the vast number of international students that were in similar situations, they could not be seen to endorse one individual case. This was a further blow to our efforts, as without the support of the student union, it would become much harder to garner the attention of the university.

Therefore, In May 2008, the decision was made to hold various rallies around campus in protest of the university’s silence in not only Onikosi’s case, but in the numerous cases that existed on campus. It was dubbed the ‘Let Them Study’ Campaign. A number of demonstrations were held around campus to raise awareness about their situations, and at the helm was Onikosi himself.

The ‘Let Them Study’ Rally, May 2008[4]

During the following months there was growing tension between USSU and the Let Luqman Stay Group. A number of statements were made, furthering hostility between the two sides. However, by the end of Onikosi’s second year, both groups had put their opinions aside and rallied to reach the best possible outcome for his case. And in September of 2008, they did. The university agreed to reduce Onikosi’s fees to that of a home (British native) student. Effectively, he would pay a third of the price he owed as an international student.

With this new chance Onikosi threw himself into his studies and became an active member of the university. In November 2008, he created the Hear Afrika Society (HAS), a campus society committed to dispelling “myths and stereotypes about African development and [that continues to] campaign for social justice in African countries.” During his last year, HAS hosted a number of fundraisers and awareness concerts about social and political issues across Africa–one of the most successful being the Sussex Somali Aid Concert, which raised thousands of pounds for Somali refugees. Independently of HAS, Onikosi was also involved in Sussex Love Music, Hate Racism campaign and USSU’s “No Platform Policy.”

What is most striking about Onikosi’s story is the fact that it is the rule, not the exception. Too often international students from developing countries are made to pay double, and in this case triple, the tuition fees of their native peers. At the University of Sussex alone, about 40 international students were barred from sitting their final exams in 2008 because they were unable to pay their course fees. For every international student facing problems such as this, there is growing awareness of their plight and students who are prepared to rally and stand behind them. More importantly, is the role that Facebook in particular played in the organization and implementation of the various steps that were taken to ensure that Luqman was able to study and graduate with his class in 2010.


“The Lies of the Truth:” One Rapper Speaks Out Against the Corruption in Mozambique

Nyleteti Honwana, Columnist


Edson da Luz is a typical young Mozambican who, at 26 years old, attends the University of Eduardo Mondlane in Maputo, Mozambique. His blog, “Gestos das Palavras” (Gestures of Words) is where da Luz expresses his “passion for words.” He would seem the normal Generation Y’er searching to communicate his thoughts and feelings through the blogosphere, but he is much more.

Azagaia Album Cover

Da Luz moonlights as the rapper Azagaia who is known as one of the continents’ most outspoken rappers because his music highlights the corruption in Mozambican and other African governments. Having released his first album, entitled Babalaze in 2007, he has spent the last few years as Mozambique’s premier rapper. Rapping about the corruption within the establishment in 2007, to rising bus prices in 2008, to the corruption within the continent as a whole, he calls his music “intervention rap.”

“The Lies of the Truth” (2007) was Azagaia’s debut single and one of his most popular songs. In it, Azagaia addresses the often rumored about but never confirmed conspiracy theories surrounding the deaths of many prominent Mozambicans who worked for the betterment of the country, including Samora Machels, the first President of Mozambique. The video shows him running from the “establishment” passing disillusioned and destitute people on the street, all let down by the government. His first single paved the way for many more songs that criticized both FRELIMO (the Mozambican governing party) and RENAMO (the opposition).

On his blog, Azagaia explains that he is impassioned by the written word and that an unchanging goal in his life is to “be the words.” While in Mozambique earlier this year, I came across another of Azagaia’s tracks, titled “People’s Power” (2008). In the song’s chorus, Azagaia clearly issues a warning to the government:

Robbers, out

Corrupt, out

Assasins, out

Shout with me for them to go away

The People have the power

The power to choose

The one who will govern us

We are the ones to elect

And if you haven’t been honest

Then get yourself in line

You will not manipulate us

Now the people are mad!

Weeks after the song was released, there was uproar within the government over Azagaia’s lyrics. The headline of ‘Freemuse’ (Freedom of Musical Expression), an international organization that promotes anti-censorship for musicians and composers worldwide, read, “The rap artist Azagaia was summoned before prosecutors to explain the allegedly violent lyrics of a song he has written about the February 2008 riots in Maputo.” On April 30th, 2008 da Luz was apprehended by the police and questioned for an hour and 30 minutes about his song, and the inherent violence in it. Azagaia did not deny his hostility toward the government and openly champions the song to those who protested against the 50 percent rise in fares charged by the minibuses in Maputo (the city’s main form of public transportation).

One of the things that struck me about Azagaia’s music was that it reverts back to the original forms of rap. Modern day American rap was born in the early 1970s in the era of the New York block parties. It has roots in African and Jamaican dub music, but quickly became a way of self expression for “disenfranchised youth of low-economic areas as the culture reflected the social, economic and political realities of their lives.” Today rap (now heavily incorporated into Hip Hop) remains the music of low income African Americans, but the messages in rap songs have changed dramatically. It has become rare to hear political rap and much more so to see those songs top the charts.

However, in Mozambique people have flocked to Azagaia’s music because they can relate to it. He raps about the everyday occurrences of their lives, and the people rally around him for it. He, like many Mozambicans, feels let down by the government, and he uses his words as a weapon to try and inspire change not only within the country, but the continent as a whole.  In fact he chose the name Azagaia, because it means “spear.”

Undoubtedly, the controversy surrounding his music also has contributed to his fame, and led him to tour in Mozambique, Angola and Portugal. An avid Facebook user, he uses social networking to connect to more people and spread his message and refers to it as “a necessity that we all possess as humans, which is to share.” It is Azagaia’s belief that there are aspects of every life that should be shared with others, in the hopes of attracting both those who think as you do and those that do not. That is the power of words. With an album and a host of successful singles under his belt, Azagaia is poised to keep advocating for the disillusioned of Mozambique and calling out corruption and dishonesty in the government as he sees it.

Meet Massachusetts’ Generation Y Republican: State Representative Ryan Fattman

Malik Neal, Columnist

State Rep. Ryan Fattman with his girlfriend on Election Night Credit: John Thornton/ Milford Daily News.

It was late evening and months before Election Day in Massachusetts. Ryan Fattman, 26, had a special romantic dinner with “the most important person in his life,” his girlfriend of seven years. The setting encompassed all the ingredients of a conventional marriage proposal scene in a Hollywood blockbuster—fancy restaurant and a candle-lit dinner. Only one thing was absent—an actual marriage proposal. In its place was a political proposal, perhaps not as life changing, but equally as important to Fattman’s future.

Ryan Fattman’s idea to run for State Representative was not a newfound revelation; it had been building up for some time. “My friends were leaving Massachusetts,” said Fattman, “they were leaving not because of the weather, as some suggested, but because of the climate—high taxes, no job incentives, and corruption.”

Elected as a Selectmen, a local political representative, in Sutton County at the age of 21, Fattman had prior political experience making political climate changes in government. During his term in office, he helped bring businesses to the town of 10,000 by encouraging tax incentives and promoted transparency by making sure all town meetings were taped and accessible to the public.

So, armed with the approval of his girlfriend and his experience in Sutton, Fattman set out for higher office; but obstacles nevertheless remained. His opponent, Representative Jennifer Callahan, was a formidable candidate with years of experience. She served on the Sutton Board of Selectmen, the Sutton School Board and in the State House since 2003. A May 2010 poll said if the election were held then Fattman would get 35 percent and Callahan would get 57 percent. All of this did not deter the young and ambitious Fattman. Equipped with steely confidence, combined with humble faith, he announced his candidacy on the steps the Sutton Town Hall on April Fools’ Day 2010. The date was chosen cleverly by Fattman to represent how the state and the people had been tricked by the politicians on Beacon Hill. He stated:

“Massachusetts stands at a defining moment in its history. And the question becomes how we change direction. I don’t believe this is a question about experience, education, gender, or age. The question is about the past versus the future; and the old way will no longer do. It’s time for a new generation of leadership.”

Massachusetts' newly elected State Representative for the 18th District

Fattman developed a new message that resonated with people. He focused on jobs, lowering taxes, illegal immigration, and per diem payments—the allowance some Representatives claim for driving to and from the State House. “People are hurting and we’re paying politicians to drive to work?” Fattman asked rhetorically. He went on: “They [State Representatives] always say there is no money, yet there is money for them to drive and eat during work.” The people of Sutton were quite receptive to this message; he was elected on November 2, 2010, defeating his opponent and becoming one of a rare breed, a Massachusetts Republican holding a state office.

In these difficult economic times, the voters obviously did not appreciate their elected officials spending taxpayers’ money (in addition to a generous salary) simply to eat and commute to their jobs at the State Capitol. His message was therefore obvious: stop wasting taxpayers’ money. It was simple, clear and convincing, and it got him elected.

“What’s lost in politics is what we brought back in this campaign—sincerity, being in touch with people, and a willingness to listen and to care,”

Fattman remarked.  He knocked on doors every single day, talking with people in the district about his plans and listening to their concerns. Each day he wrote thank you notes specific to each person thanking them for listening to him, and even if they were not home, he wrote to them as well.

Fattman likes to tell the story of knocking on one family’s door that was not home at the time he came.  Suddenly, the sprinkler went off at 1:00, causing him to be drenched. After the grueling experience, Fattman wrote a clever note to the family to the effect of: I now know better not to stop at your house at this time. I love your beautiful lawn, but I didn’t need watering. Please, though, consider voting for real change by electing me—wet or dry.

When asked if he had any advice for young people, Fattman answered, “For five to six years I’ve been told that something couldn’t be done. I want to make sure all youth know they can do anything they set their minds to.” This message has clearly taken hold in his district. A few days after being elected, he received an email from a 12 year-old girl about welfare reform in Massachusetts. “As I read the email, I thought it was written by a 20 year-old,” he noted. Fattman went to the girl’s house to meet her and talk about the issue. “When I knocked on the door, her mother laughed, saying “I knew you would respond but didn’t think you would stop by the house.” Fattman did and was impressed by the girl’s willingness to contact him and address the issue.

Fattman’s election demonstrates what youthful zest, diligence and proper presentation of an issue can accomplish. He found the weak spot in his opponent’s armor and pierced it with good effect. His careful and respectful presentation of his future plans to his girlfriend has borne fruit. He only needs to properly harvest it. As Fattman noted, “I’ve beat incumbents in the past and worked hard. I would not mind doing it again.”

If all goes as planned, he just might.

Meet Aaron Schock, a Modern Early Riser

James Di Palma-Grisi, Columnist

If there ever were a modern early riser, Aaron Schock equals or surpasses the archetype. Elected at the age of barely 27, having won the primary at 26 and having served as a school board president at 23, Schock also served as a state representative for Illinois (also at 23, tied for the youngest).

In the span of four years (only two of which saw him eligible for Congress), Schock became a national representative for the people of his district, which includes Peoria, the famous “middle-of-America” cultural exemplar. While Schock’s views may represent what Peoria has become, his personal story diverges considerably. Schock tried to graduate high school early, and when he was prevented he ran for the school board. When he was prevented from appearing on the ballot, he created and managed a write-in candidate campaign and won a seat on the board.

“I think I’ll bring a much different perspective than someone who’s two-or-three times my age. I think our country would look different, and certainly our government and its programs would look different, if more people were here that were in their 20s and 30s,” he said.

Whatever the relevance of the representative’s age, Schock has taken his personal perspective to Washington, receiving special permission to serve on multiple committees. Echoing several articles on Generation Y in the workplace, Schock has little use for seniority and “the way things are done,” preferring instead to make his own path through Congress. In this respect Gen Y will change the workplace—through its own special cases like Schock.

Although Gen Y is seen typically as distrustful of both parties, Schock has taken a decidedly partisan path, becoming a party whip for the Republicans. “I’m not only getting to do the job that I ran for office to do, but I think I’m also getting to participate in the new D.C., if you will.” It seems Schock still possesses that generational naiveté, believing he is part of a uniquely positioned “pulley group” that can drag society alongside it by pulling on a single mental and verbal rope.

Indeed, the Heritage Foundation describes Schock as a “staunch conservative,” but interestingly enough, in the same article he appears to possess fairly liberal positions filtered through conservative ones. This may appear nonsensical, but bear with me. Schock represents Gen Y by taking a liberationist view of government and politics, rather than the stodgy, fuddy-duddy republicanism of the past 100 or so years. When asked his idea of “earthly happiness,” instead of replying in a spacey, vague, David Brooks-style mode, Schock replies simply “the freedom to do whatever it is I want”. Simplistic though this explanation may be, it represents an ideological break from…ideology.

Schock does not escape the generational strainer unscathed. With an eye towards the future, he replies that his greatest achievement “hopefully…hasn’t happened yet.”

So what will Schock do? If he has his druthers, taxes on new renewable energy technologies will be eliminated, which will force two things to happen: companies will innovate, and companies will match those innovations to what consumers are currently or will probably enjoy consuming. He finds this superior to university funding, though it is unclear how comprehensive the tax cuts will prove—for instance, if the basic research is needed, which companies will be able to afford the research even if they aren’t taxed on it?

But, that doesn’t mean he won’t push for the issue, among others. In the Illinois State House Schock recounted: “I have one of the most conservative voting records in the state house. I’ve got a 100 percent pro-life, pro-family, 100 percent with the Second Amendment.” Despite these credentials, and in spite of his posited “new Washington,” he takes the same talking points as his predecessors—on his first Meet the Press appearance, Schock takes credit for a stimulus project in the ARA, while simultaneously (although not necessarily in the same breath) makes it clear he did not vote for the project. This much is politics as usual–playing fast and loose with the facts in the hopes that those listening cannot follow.

Schock may have been taken in by the ways of Washington already, but one instance cannot draw our opinions one way or another. However, it can inform them of a working hypothesis.

Meet David Kralle: Philadelphia’s Jack of All Trades

Malik Neal, Columnist

A small, late model, green Toyota arrives at the parking lot of the 8th Police District on Academy Road in far Northeast Philadelphia on Thursday, October 7, 2010. The driver, not a State Representative but 25-year-old David Kralle, a staff aide to Representative Denny O’Brien, exits the vehicle to present the Officer of the Month, a  community service award, to Police Officer Ruben. Officer Ruben was responsible for the apprehension of an arm robbery suspect who preyed upon a local Dunkin Donuts. It’s all part of a day’s work for Mr. Kralle, but a vital relationship he values with the constituents of the district he serves.

Officially, David Kralle  is Special Assistant to State Representative and former Speaker of Pennsylvania House of Representatives, Dennis O’ Brien. The 169th district of which Rep. O’ Brien represents is made up of mostly of Democrats; yet, Rep. O’Brien has managed to hold on to the seat since 1982 because of his bipartisan bent and his excellent community-based constituent services, for which recently Mr. Kralle is responsible.

“It’s really hard to describe what exactly I do, said Kralle, I’m a jack of all trades.” Kralle is now the de-facto Chief of Staff for Rep. O’ Brien, a job he has held since 2009 when he graduated from Temple University. The position entails, among other things, handling the day-to-day operations in the office and substituting for O’Brien when scheduling prohibits the Representative himself from appearing. Kralle also established the outreach agenda for the Representative. He coordinated “Bringing Government to Your Door” and Youth Expo, an outreach event dedicated educate youth in the district about state government.

Kralle’s deep affection for the district is the motivating force behind the work he does. In addition to serving under Rep. O’Brien, Kralle is also a Republican committeeman in 66th Ward, 24th Division. As a committeeman, Kralle is responsible for electing the ward leader, getting out the vote on election day, and more importantly, serving as the liaison between the people and the their elected officials in the division. “People in the community need assistance and essentially I’m a conduit for the people,  helping them get their concerns addressed,” said Kralle. Kralle’s activism, however, does not end there. He is also treasurer of  his local Town Watch, where  he oversees the funds and occasionally “tours the neighborhood to make sure everything is safe.”

Kralle’s involvement in politics began at a young age. Along with a friend, he started SEPTARS (Southeastern Pennsylvania Teenage Republicans), a group dedicated to promoting Republican activism among youth. His stepfather was a Judge and his grandfather was a Republican committeeman like Kralle. One day, Kralle’s grandfather was in Rep. O’ Brien’s district office and O’Brien told him about a Page Program, a program for young people to do clerical work—filing papers, making copies and answering phone calls. Kralle’s grandfather thought this would a great opportunity for his grandson, so Kralle became a page, and the rest is history.

Before serving in his current job, Kralle volunteered in Rep. O’Brien’s district office and worked on his re- election campaign. This eventually led to a job offer:

“While at my freshman orientation for college, I received a call from Denny’s (as he calls him) office asking for my Social Security Number. I thought this information was kind of personal,  I nevertheless gave it to them. Within a few weeks, I was offered a job as a legislative aide.”

At college, however, Kralle tried to avoid politics. As he stated, “I just wanted to get out.” He originally majored in Biology at Temple, pushing the political sphere of his life in the background. However, it did not remain that way for long. He eventually majored in Political Science and got involved in politics once more because he believes politics has the ability to make a positive difference in peoples’ lives. He is continuing his formal education by pursuing a Masters degree in Government Administration at Fels School of Government at the University of Pennsylvania.

“There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t feel satisfied by the smiles I see on constituents’ faces. Whether it’s fighting against insurance companies on behalf of constituents or helping with potholes, those small things make a big difference.”

In addition, Kralle believes young people, the oft-labeled Generation Y, can make a big difference as well. “Every issue has a public component,” said Kralle. He tells young people: “It doesn’t matter what you’re party affiliation is, find an issue and just get involved.” He urges others to “get constructive” by getting involved with the political process.

When asked about how he felt about being called an up and coming star in politics, Kralle, with humility, answered:

“It’s really an honor. I don’t expect it. I blush every time I receive compliments about my work. The biggest compliment, however, anyone can give me is that I help make a difference in the district.”

Much remains, however, to be done: constituent services, outreach programs, community support, elderly services, youth services, public safety, job promotion and economic development—all important, and all on his crowded agenda begging for attention. They are the everyday grist for the political mill which just keeps on grinding. This is the reality of politics working at the grassroots level, where it has the most direct impact on people’s everyday lives.

Kralle is living proof of Aristotle’s comment that “man is a political animal,” meaning quite simply that people brand together in social groups to promote their common good and individual welfare. This process is guided, nurtured and slowly perfected by Kralle everyday in his district.

UC Berkeley Students Educate California: Don’t Get Meg’d

Jesse-Justin Cuevas, Editor in Chief

In early September, Klein Lieu, Nik Dixit and their team of six other UC Berkeley undergraduates came together to launch Don’t Get Meg’d, a grassroots effort to educate voters about Meg Whitman’s campaign for Governor of California. The activist organization is multi-dimensional and iGenerational; Don’t Get Meg’d utilizes social media to its maximum potential, featuring a website, a YouTube channel, a Twitter account and a Facebook page to educate followers.

Don’t Get Meg’d’s goal is to inform young voters of the dangers of electing Meg Whitman, the former Chief Executive Officer and President of eBay. But more importantly, the message is a democratic one: the American Government is not for sale.

Today, less than one month until November 2nd, the Midterm Elections are on everybody’s mind. But this year’s Midterms are particularly significant, in light of January’s landmark decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. On January 21st, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court held that corporate funding during elections cannot be limited under the First Amendment.

Lieu and Dixit feel that Don’t Get Meg’d is especially pertinent now, given the timing of Citizens United and the 2010 Midterms.

“Here’s a woman who didn’t vote until very recently, and now all of a sudden…[she] woke up and decided she wanted to be governor,” Dixit said with conviction. But isn’t that what American democracy is all about—being able to wake up one morning and run for office if you are so inspired? Didn’t Kennedy get criticized for his lack of experience? Didn’t Obama?

While the people behind Don’t Get Meg’d absolutely oppose Whitman’s political platform, Lieu made a distinction between Don’t Get Meg’d’s concern for Whitman’s political experience, her politics on their own and the message her election would send.

“The sole fact is,” Lieu clarified, “she’s put 114 million dollars [into her campaign]. If Whitman wins, what does that mean for California and the nation? That anybody who has money can win the election. This isn’t eBay, she can’t just ‘Buy it Now.’”

Young people themselves, the team of eight is targeting Generation Y in hopes of keeping voter turnout high after the 2008 Presidential Election. Don’t Get Meg’d followers and subscribers receive updates about Whitman’s political process and her position on youth issues—the economy, education, the environment, marriage equality and immigration—on a near-daily basis. While the grassroots team hasn’t set up daily emails just yet, Don’t Get Meg’d is innovative in differentiating its cause from other advocacy groups and keeping people amped through social media.

“Our generation is very different from the generation of the 1960s. In the 60s, there were a few hardcore activists cashing in. Today, the Internet allows us to reach out to ordinary folks. Pamphleting was popular in the 60s. ‘Suggesting to friends’ is like passing out literature,” Dixit told me.

But for better or for worse, the Internet is noninvasive. While the politically inclined person may be swamped with Facebook/Twitter/Reddit tags and posts directing them to articles and pages he actually will explore, the less politically inclined social media user may take note of a headline but never click the link. Lieu and Dixit recognize that there are both advantages and disadvantages to using the web as an organizing tool.

“[The Internet] is the starting point for action; it’s not the end,” they said, “We can talk as much as we want, but at the end of the day we have to go out there and vote.”

And how exactly does Don’t Get Meg’d take their activism beyond the computer? Well, for starters, the team works hard to make sure that its daily updates stand out. “We make sure we’re not repeating somebody else’s talking points and that we’re speaking to young people in a language they understand,” Lieu said. Don’t Get Meg’d takes note of the Millenials’ particularly short attention spans and taps into Gen Y’s sense of humor to send a message. The team consists of videographers and graphic artists to create diverse ads and “cartoons that capture the essence of [Don’t Get Meg’d’s] campaign in 500 pixels.”

Though Lieu and Dixit are confident in the transition from virtual activism to physical participation, Don’t Get Meg’d is taking further steps to enhance interaction between the organization’s campaign and its supporters. In line with his group’s generational attunement, Lieu sardonically posted some items on eBay. Up for auction include the Governorship of California, the California Public Education System and the state’s environment. The idea behind the eBay prank is to drive home the fact that Whitman plans to buy her election and that as a democracy, the people of California cannot let her. The team also recently launched a video contest that begs not only for political action but for political research and education as well (the submission deadline is October 20th, so get in your videos soon!).

“Students all across California mobilize like wildfire, and it is a mistake for people in the media to write us off,” Dixit said. Lieu added, “Young people can be a force.”

Judging by the work of Don’t Get Meg’d, we certainly are.

Generation Y Voters Focus on Policy, not Party

Matthew McDermott, Columnist

Today’s youth, more than any generation prior, are disaffiliated with either party in our current two-party political system. A rather cliché and uneventful statement—I know—but one that has real impact on the future of our current political system. While working in the 2008 campaign, I was fascinated by voter enthusiasm and the large turnout, particularly amongst the 18-29 year old generation. Had the Democratic Party changed politics forever in this country? To realists: no, not really. But for the first time in decades, youth turnout exceeded turnout for those 65 and older (18 percent to 16 percent), and voted 66 percent for President Barack Obama. Most astounding though, and a trend that has only grown in the last two years, is that younger voters are not showing up at the polls to vote for the Democratic Party. They were showing up to vote for the man. For the first time, a subset of voters is putting policy before party—an incredible feat in today’s political system.

It has been conventional wisdom throughout the generations that America’s young people perform the role of an anti-establishment, oppositional force in our political system. Youth are easily associated with spurts of grassroots activism, often using extreme and sometimes futile measures to promote causes overlooked by the majority in power.

In my many political musings I’ve often wondered about the effect of most grassroots-style campaigns that initiate change from outside of the political system. Rather, would it be more effective to have an advocate within the political system that fights for the causes of the grassroots? To further their cause successfully, should America’s young people voice their dissent within the political system instead of protesting on the fringe?

One young person that shares this mindset is Edwin Pacheco, the 28 year-old newly-inducted Chairman of the Rhode Island Democratic Party.

As a brief background (since to my dismay, many of you don’t follow the political happenings of this darling state), Ed was first elected to public office while still a teenager. In 2001, he was elected to the Burriville School Committee.  There he provided what I’ve long felt was missing on school committee’s across the country: a strong voice to represent those that are most affected by the Committee’s actions, students. He quickly rose to become Chair of the committee, and a year later successfully won a seat in the Rhode Island House of Representatives—becoming one of the youngest legislators in the history of the state. As a State Representative, Pacheco has been a strong advocate for youth issues and their ability to participate in the political process. He introduced (and successfully overrode the Governor’s veto to pass into law) voter pre-registration legislation allowing 16 and 17 year-old high school students pre-register to vote before they turn 18. Legislation was also enacted that gave high school students the ability to work as poll workers on Election Day.

And just this past year, fortifying his role in the Democratic Party, Ed became the Chairman of the state party, providing a fresh image to what had become an ancient political machine.

On merit, his rise through the political ranks is stunning in its own accord, but his legislative success and forwarding thinking for the Democratic Party has been just as stunning, if not more so. As Chairman, Pacheco is taking politics local, visiting each city and town Democratic committee with his pledge to increase use of social media and engage activists in the political process. This sentiment is especially important for youth who have begun to define themselves by policy and less by party affiliation: Rick McAuliffe, a lobbyist, Democratic fundraiser, and Pacheco supporter, says constant contact with the grassroots is particularly important in an era of declining support for party loyalty. Party leaders, he says, can no longer count on reflexive support:

“The days of, ‘I’m a Democrat and that’s good enough,’ are gone.”

I touched on this sentiment in some of my first pieces for Early Risers: while party affiliation among youth voters still skews towards the Democratic Party, they have stronger ties to certain liberal, social and fiscal policies. It is the very reason we are seeing an emergence of more youth identifying as “progressives,” “libertarians,” etc. than as Democrats or Republicans.

The irony in this situation is that disaffiliation, and the efforts of Chairman Pacheco to reengage youth in the political party system, is the biggest threat to Democratic chances in Rhode Island’s gubernatorial race this November. After having a Republican Governor for most of the last 25 years, GOP support in the state (with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country) has tanked and Republicans have no chance in winning this November.  But the Democratic nominee, General Treasurer Frank Caprio, faces a bitter battle from former-Republican Senator, now Independent, Lincoln Chafee. The battle rests not for political moderates in the state but rather for the left-wing of the Democratic Party, which along with union support is defecting to Chafee.  In fact in the latest Rasmussen poll, Caprio is only besting Chafee 49-34 percent among the Democratic base. A majority of the Chafee vote stems from youth voters and liberal voters tired of supporting party candidates that don’t embrace progressive values.

There are real parallels between the candidacies of Lincoln Chafee, Charlie Christ, Michael Bloomberg, and Barack Obama.  These candidates, regardless of their respective electoral outcome, have been able to make their political races less about party and more about standing up for policies.

It remains to be seen as to whether Pacheco in his new role as Chairman can transition the political machine from party partisanship to advocacy for true democratic social and fiscal values.  Mr. Pacheco must realize, as should all party leaders across the country, that Generation Y is not beholden to any established political party and will remain an unreliable voting block until they see issues stand before any (D) or (R) come election time.

As an aside, this will be my last post from within our lovely borders. This weekend I’m hopping the Atlantic to begin my time at the London School of Economics. It certainly will  be amusing to watch the outcome.

Rashad Taylor Builds the Foundation of His House with Education

James Sasso, Associate Editor

Representative Rashad Taylor, 28, of the 55th district of Georgia certainly believes that Generation Y has the potential to change the world, but if America continues to ignore its failing education system, he fears that a whole generation of abilities and leaders may be lost.

The Deputy Whip for the House Democratic Caucus in Georgia and the former Political Director of the Democratic Party of Georgia, Taylor knows about our country’s education system. Among other House groups such as Ways and Means, MARTOC (Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Overview Committee), for whose Subcommittee on Infrastructure and Maintenance he chairs, Mr. Taylor belongs to the Education Committee. In fact, Atlanta recently came under national fire for a cheating scandal where teachers and/or administrators would change the standardized test answers of their students in order to improve the school’s overall status. As a leading member of the Education committee, Mr. Taylor has had to focus even more on education.

Taylor recognizes that if the current method for assigning funding to schools, namely through pay for performance systems reliant on standardized testing, does not change, then this scandal may not turn into an isolated incident. If schools are short on cash, which makes them less likely to perform well, but they only receive funding if they do well, it could lead to an increasing amount of teachers and administrators changing student test scores with the hopes of becoming benefactors of “pay for performance” funding.  Basically, “people will do what they need to survive,” says Taylor.

While he does fully support the Obama administration’s desire to improve America’s education system, he believes that the system needs a serious upgrade—one perfectly in line with the rapidly advancing technological world in which Generation Y grew up. “Reforms are really about a new way of doing things,” he says, “really about trying to revamp how we educate our kids, because the way we’ve been doing it before clearly is not working.” Taylor clearly agrees with the Obama administration’s efforts to reward teachers who perform well, but he wishes that there were a better way to evaluate a teacher than simply using the old standardized tests:

“We need to get a little more innovative about how we teach students, we still do scantron sheets! I mean, we have iPads and iPhones, touch screen everything, and we’re still talking about using erasers and No. 2 pencils on tests!”

Representative Taylor further believes that the failing education system could lead to worsening the cycle of American economic failures because “the education system is so tied into our economic growth.” Poor education breeds an undesirable workforce, ill-suited for the 21st century, which in turn worsens the economy, which in turn only hurts the education system. As Representative Taylor believes, education is the most important service a government can provide:

“You need to make education a priority.  When you sit down at home for your monthly expenses, the first thing you know you have to pay is your mortgage or else you won’t have a place to live. Maybe you can go without heat, maybe you can go without electricity for a month, but you can’t go without a roof over your head…If education is the most critical thing we have to fund [then] it is the house, it is the roof. You have to pay your whole mortgage. You can’t tell Bank of America ‘I’m just going to send you 70 percent,’ you have to come up with the rest, or in a month or so you’re going to find yourself out on the street, and we’re going to find a lot of kids out on the street because we’re not fully funding education.”

The metaphor of the house fits perfectly into Representative Taylor’s political philosophy: without a strong educational foundation, the structure of both American Government and society will crumble. Why, then, do a majority of school systems in America find themselves underfunded, especially since it seems that everybody can agree to the importance of education?

The problem, in short, is politicians.“We gotta have the political will to get things done,” says Taylor, “I think the public is there, but I think they are only there for certain things, and education is one of them.” Mr. Taylor blames partisanship for the lack of action. People, he believes, are entirely willing to pay for better schools, “but the problem is there [isn’t] the political will to do it.” Even when Democrats brought a proposal to fill the education budget gap in Georgia without increasing taxes, Republicans refused to discuss such a solution “because Democrats had raised it.”

Representative Taylor sees this kind of partisanship, where lawmakers pointlessly bicker and fail to reach compromises, as one of the key factors that explain Generation Y’s supposed apathy towards politics. Generation Y is focused “on getting stuff done.”  The constant fighting of politicians only serves to turn the result driven youth away from the political forum.

Taylor, though, still believes that Generation Y can lead the world effectively.  He argues that because of today’s hyper-partisanship, the next generation of leaders will look more towards compromise. As he says, “we expect our electeds to actually deliver, and the partisanship has become a roadblock,” towards having effective, timely and responsible legislation. Generation Y found political energy with the Obama campaign because he promised a new type of leadership: one that looked for similarities in differing ideologies instead of only trying to entirely denounce the opposition. Whether or not the partisanship actually will subside must wait to be seen, but no one can deny that Generation Y has the political potential to affect real change in the world.

Generation Y’s ability to lead, though, depends on whether or not this political potential is put to use.  Generation Y’ers tend to act directly to affect change in the community, such as by taking part in Teach for America, rather than trying to enact change indirectly through politics.  Political participation for today’s under-30’s only can be described adequately as “dismal.”  Generation Y rarely votes, which is the primary way of becoming politically involved. But a lack of political participation does not equate to apathy, Mr. Taylor believes. Today’s youth is very active concerning social justice, but because of a lack of trust for modern partisan politics, they choos to bypass the government and throw themselves directly into helping the world.

In the end, whether fortunately or unfortunately, to induce real widespread change, one generally has to have political power of one sort or another. And the only way to get this political power is to become involved, through voting and other methods, so that politicians will pay attention to the issues about which Generation Y is concerned. Politics is a game of winning. As Mr. Taylor says today’s youth “can expect older folks in this business to continue to pay less attention to our issues and our agenda until we get more involved.”

And again, this all comes back to education. Mr. Taylor rightfully believes that the lack of a first-rate education system breeds a lack of political participation. Students read less every year. If one does not read, how can he hope to know about the world?  If he does not know about the world outside of his bubble, why would he want to change it? Political participation will increase only as education increases.

Look out for Representative Taylor. He holds a well-grounded political ideology about how to help fix the looming and current problems in America. He is a man who firmly believes that education should be one of the primary focuses, if not the primary focus, of a government—something that hopefully Washington comes to understand.  There was good reason that Campaigns and Elections Magazine named him one of 10 rising stars in national politics in June 2007, when he was 25. He deserves all of the accolades he’s received, and as he continues to impress with his strong political will and leadership, he likely will earn more.

Meet Yonkers’ Rising Political Star: John Rubbo

Stephanie Rushford, Associate Editor

In the Spring of 2009, John Rubbo announced his candidacy for City Councilman for Yonkers’ 4th District. A life long resident of Yonkers, Rubbo explained to EARLY RISERS, why he decided to run for public office so early in his political career: “I started about six-and-a-half-years ago working for our mayor, our previous mayor, John Spencer.  I was always involved in politics throughout High School and College. And the timing was right when the seat opened up. I stepped up and decided to throw my hat in the ring.” Mr. Rubbo considers all politics to be local and explained the importance of a City Councilman to Early Risers:

City Council is all about the quality of life, passing the city budget, municipal, school budgets. It is about maintaining a good quality of life in the city, whether is be the police department, fire fighters or cleaning the streets. It is about the neighborhood you live in. It is about maintaining a good quality of life.

However, while Mr. Rubbo believes that Yonkers “has so much potential,” he thinks great reforms must occur in the City and State Governments, stating: “We need a restructuring of municipal salaries and pension plans in New York State. But that does not mean that [firefighters and police] are not doing an excellent job. I think we need to think outside of the box when it comes to municipal salaries. We just can’t afford it.”

Many New Yorkers in the metro area feel that the State Government misuses their hard earned tax dollars, and John Rubbo is no exception:  “the State of New York sends money back to the municipalities, and Yonkers has always been unfunded. Currently the residents of Yonkers contribute to their education, but this puts a strain on local municipalities.” Moreover, Rubbo highlights the disparity in the state’s funding between New York cities: “on average, Yonkers receives 47, 48 cents on the tax dollar. Other large cities like Syracuse and Buffalo receive 92 or 93 cents on the tax dollar.” (A viewpoint that has been noticed by others.)

Furthermore, Rubbo feels that his city could have been on par with other metropolises around the New York City area, but that external factors have gotten in the way of progress: “Yonkers was really on the rise, as we were developing the downtown waterfront area. We were on a fast track [in] getting things done down there. But politics and the economy really put a hole in what we were doing.” In addition, Republican hopeful Rubbo wishes that the Yonkers’ City Council invested more in the development of businesses by shortening the process, which Rubbo laments takes “3-4 months” for a business to get started in Yonkers. Additionally, Mr. Rubbo had heard of first-hand accounts of entrepreneurs being turned off by Yonkers’ lengthy permit process for businesses: “I know people that wanted to open a business in Yonkers and were displeased by the process. And they ended up doing business somewhere else.” John Rubbo also underscored the importance of development of businesses (whether small or corporate) for cities all across America:

If you are living in a community with a Main Street, and you have vacant storefront, after vacant storefront, as opposed to a full Main Street bustling with stores, it makes a great impact on the quality of life in that city.

Yet, even in the mist of a slowing economy, and the budget battles that exist in Albany, Mr. Rubbo has hope for the city of Yonkers: “when the economy starts moving, I hope we can move the ‘up’ direction, and that politicians don’t get in the way of that progress. It’s going to take us a bit of time to get back on our feet and moving again.”

And how does John Rubbo respond to critics who cite him as being too young and inexperienced for City Council? “Well the response I usually have [to that] is that there is a tremendous amount of experience in New York State legislature, and the New York State legislature is one of the most dysfunctional State Legislatures.” Moreover, Rubbo does not consider age to be a factor in good legislative skills: “It is the drive you have in yourself and in your community. People will always play that against you. I try to learn from everyone. You are always learning whether you are 28 or 58. You will always be successful if you are always open and open minded in what is around you. The wisest of us are always asking questions.”

The country over the past eight years has become very polarized, and City Council is no different, but John Rubbo wishes that State Governments can come together in the goal of progress and put partisan differences aside. “Everyone has their values and principles, no matter what seat you hold, and I think you need to maintain those values,” Rubbo said, “But I think that [officials] need to reach across the aisle, because nothing gets done if it is ‘us versus them.'”

The election between John Rubbo and Denis Shepard was hard fought, and unfortunately for Rubbo, the people of Yonkers sided with Shepard. However, John Rubbo has not been spurred by politics after running, subsequently losing. When asked if he would run again, he said “absolutely” and added:

It is when the opportunity is right. It is whether or not the timing is right politically and personally.

Meet Krystal Ball, Virginia’s 1st District Democratic Candidate for Congress

Stephanie Rushford, Associate Editor

Krystal Ball has created quite a stir in recent weeks in her campaign for Virginia’s 1st district Congressional seat, which is currently held by Republican Rob Wittman. In her campaign YouTube video, titled “On the Road with Rob,” she carried a cardboard cutout of Rep. Rob Wittman around the district, introducing “your Congressman” to voters who would not likely meet him otherwise. Expectedly, Ms. Ball’s video faced criticism from Wittman’s staff, with his spokesperson Casey Werderman, calling her “cute.”

Yet, Krystal Ball’s campaign—whether “cute” or not—represents how Generation Y will change how business is done on Capitol Hill. Accountability and Accessibility are some of the central themes in Ball’s “On the Road with Rob” video, which she stressed while speaking to EARLY RISERS, “I have really made an effort to not just be with Democrats in the district but really to reach out to groups across the spectrum, and let them know very honestly where I stand, but let them know that my door is open and my mind is open. So that is a dialogue that I will continue if I have the honor of representing this district.”

Furthermore, Ms. Ball is committed to changing the environment of Washington D.C. by stating,

“I am big supporter of Campaign Finance reform, I think one of the biggest problems in our system right now is the particular role that money plays and it does make politicians more accountable to the [groups] that have the money, whether it’s large donors or whether it’s large corporations or special interest than to their own constituents.”

In addition, Krystal Ball supports the current proposed Fair Elections Now Act, which would allow prospective candidates, who met the criteria, to receive federal funding for their campaign to offset costs.

While the Washington D.C. establishment may consider Ball’s promise for campaign finance reform naïve, her allegiance to her supporters instead of large corporations speaks to Generation Y’s skepticism of how business is conducted on Capitol Hill. Furthermore, if elected, Ms. Ball seeks to end the cozy relationship between Congress and special interest by banning lobbyist gifts to members of Congress, and she would like “a lifetime ban on lobbying for former members of Congress.” However, Candidate Ball said that she has received money from some PACs, stating: “I have seen where my interests have lined up with other organizations, and then found it to be a mutual beneficial relationship.” Nevertheless, she stresses for the current Fair Elections Now legislation, [the bill] really focuses on lower dollar contributors, so that way the emphasis is not on special interest and it’s not on corporations, it’s really on individuals who are willing to make an investment in your campaign.” Currently, the Krystal Ball campaign has had over five thousand individual donors nationwide, with the average contribution at $25 dollars.

Additionally, Krystal Ball advocates for marriage equality, with the majority of Generation Y: “I support the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, [which] would put the ball in the state’s court, but it would make it so that if one state allows gay marriage all states have to recognize it.” As well as gay rights, Ms. Ball has been a fierce supporter of reproductive rights, “the federal government should not interfere in those personal decisions, because ultimately, I do not think women make these decisions lightly.” Furthermore, Ms. Ball said that choice comes down to “trusting the woman” and, that it is “ a decision that is best made between the woman, her doctor, her family, and her God.” In addition to reproductive rights, Ms. Ball is excited that the recent healthcare legislation made it illegal to discriminate healthcare coverage based on gender. If elected in Congress, she would fight for an increase in paid maternity leave.

Interestingly enough, while Ms. Ball may be in favor of gay rights (and pro-choice legislation) she does not make mention anywhere on her site of her progressive views. Ms. Ball believes in “Pragmatic idealism,” which she says is a value that shared among Generation Y:

“I think this is something that our generation tends to have in common, because on the one hand [Generation Y] is young and we believe that we can make things better, and we are optimistic, and we are hopeful, and those are great things. But we don’t have our head in the clouds, we know that there are sometimes political realities. We know that it takes some pragmatism, and some reaching across the aisle, and some compromise to get things done.”

Ball highlights President Obama’s recent healthcare legislation an example of Pragmatic Idealism:

“The bill that passed was not perfect, there are additional things I would have liked to have seen [in the bill]. The process, in my opinion, did kind of stink. But ultimately if I had been in Congress I would have voted for it, because I think it was important that we take a step forward and that we do something.”

On the economy, Ms. Ball is fiscally conservative compared to the Democrats in the 110th Congress. She would like a 50% cut in payroll taxes for new small businesses. Yet, Ms. Ball supports the recent extension to unemployment benefits,

“We are still in the worst recession since the great depression, and there are whole lot of people who are hard working and doing everything they can to find a job, but there’s nothing out there for them, so that is absolutely something I would have supported. I think that continuing the extension is something we have to stay on top of, and play by ear, and see how we recover as a country, and how the economy recovers.”

One core principle of Krystal Ball’s campaign is competence versus experience—much of her staff is under 25, and her campaign manger is only 21-years-old—and she stresses that this view is the “exact opposite of entitlement.” Further stating, “We think everybody should be judged based on their merit and not on how long they have waited in line or their seniority. We think that if you are there and you’re ready to do the job then you should be there to do the job.”  Krystal Ball may be young—if elected, she will be the first woman in Congress under thirty—but she is not canvassing for some Baby Boomer Congress hopeful, she is looking to hold the seat herself.

Krystal Ball faces a hard race with incumbent Robert Wittman, with many stating that Wittman will easily retain his Congressional seat. Virginians will cast their ballots this Election Day, and with little more than two months left in the campaign cycle, can Krystal Ball beat this incumbent to be the next member of Generation Y in Congress? The stakes are high, and Ms. Ball is faces a tough road ahead of her. Generation Y has been called entitled too many times by their Baby Boomer parents; and yet, perhaps a better word for Generation Y and Krystal Ball would be chutzpah.