By ANGELA PEOPLES
For some time now, wooing and turning out young voters is the name of the game for Democratic candidates at all levels of government. In the District of Columbia, an influx of young professionals over the last decade and the racial and socio-economic shift that have followed make engaging this group more important, yet more elusive than ever.
It’s hard to believe that this city’s main draw for newcomers is the opportunity to work in politics and government, and somehow, that would mean local politics would take “a back seat to the existential angst of being a 20- or 30-something in this city,” as Robert Samuels wrote in a Washington Post article last week referring to youth involvement in local elections.
But Robert Samuels hasn’t met the leaders behind the Rent Is Too Darn High slate.
I moved to D.C. in 2008 with a laser-like focus on being a part of the movement for social change at the national level. As an advocate for the United States Student Association, a national youth advocacy organization, I was inspired daily by the energy, passion and ability of my peers working to make higher education affordable. Over the years, I developed roots in the District community. This community is comprised of people in similar circumstances: 20- and 30-year old D.C. transplants with deep progressive values and a belief in the power of people to change their surroundings.
The fact that our views at times clashed with our role in the rapidly gentrifying city we called home — and yes, we do call D.C. home — was not lost on me. Having been raised in a household of school board presidents and churchgoers, the call to contribute to my local community grew stronger.
That calling brought me to the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club to help serve as the voice for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Democrats in D.C. This group connects my passion for politics and progress with my commitment to being a community leader in the city I call home. And now, in the middle of my second term on the executive board of the Club, we’ve made it a point to engage young community members.
Serving as a leader of the largest constituent group in the D.C. Democratic Party has its challenges. There were those who questioned my authenticity, my ability to lead and even my sexuality. But for every one person who cast doubt on the spirit of this new generation of community leaders, there were two others who stood firmly behind us.
I continue to be inspired by many of these leaders who answered the call to fight for change at home and across the country. Many of these folks are now running for City Council, leading local organizations like the Washington Interfaith Network, the Youth Pride Alliance, TransLaw, and the Latino/a GLBT History Project.
One such group is the Rent Is Too Darn High slate for D.C. Democratic State Committee, the largest and most diverse slate seeking to give this body a fresh start. So while the Washington Post might make a debatable argument about youth involvement in the mayoral election, what is absolutely clear is that young people and LGBT people are energized by and driving engagement in local politics.
Representing the wisdom of long-standing community leaders joined by the fresh perspectives of young organizers, this slate is honing in on four key problems facing our community: a lack of good jobs, ever increasing costs of housing, prohibitive wages for our workers, and the denial of D.C.’s claim to statehood.
I’m convinced that one path to changing these conditions is through the effective stewardship of the D.C. Democratic State Committee. For too long, this organization has fought against transparency and accountability, and now wrestles with the perception of being complicit in corruption.
Unlike other candidates and slates, the Rent Is Too Darn High candidates bring native Washingtonians together with D.C. transplants to tackle head-on the policies depriving our communities of what they need to support their families. With Rent Is Too Darn High candidates at the helm of the D.C. Democratic State Committee, we can have a significant role in bringing these issues in front of the mayor’s office and the City Council.
So as a fellow D.C. community member, come April 1st, I’m giving my support to all the candidates bearing the Rent Is Too Darn High name. And I urge all LGBT people committed to a new generation of Democratic leadership in D.C. to do the same.
Angela Peoples is president of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club.