Mahatma Gandhi said it best: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” At only 17-years-old, Allyson Carpenter decided to be that change by running for office at Advisory Neighborhood Commission in Washington, D.C. During her time in office, this Howard University senior was able to bring positive change to her community through affordable housing initiatives. Her work didn’t go unnoticed, either–First Lady Michelle Obama personally invited Allyson to attend last year’s Black History Month Reception at the White House. And if that wasn’t impressive enough, Allyson plans to attend graduate school for dual degrees in law and public policy to help achieve her long-term goal of running for Congress!
Name: Allyson Carpenter
College: Howard University
Major: Political Science
Graduation Year: 2017
Her Campus: What first drew you to political science? Was there a certain a moment when you realized that you had a future in politics?
Allyson Carpenter: After two years at a private school, I transferred to a severely underfunded public school. School officials were planning to cut AP classes, school busses and some athletic programs. After just weeks at the school, I organized a student committee that lobbied the community for a tax increase that would help improve our school. In November, our cause made it to the ballot and we were victorious!
While I wasn’t necessarily passionate about public school funding, I was captivated by our democratic process. It was on that day, the day that we learned that our measure passed, that our actions helped our school—that’s when I knew I wanted a career where I could solve problems for my community.
HC: How have your goals helped you give back to your local community?
AC: I ran for office at 17 because I really wanted to get involved in my adopted local community in Washington, D.C. During my time in office, I’ve been able to fight for affordable housing for low-income families, block proposals for expensive developments and bring hundreds of affordable units to my neighborhood.
HC: Which women in politics inspired you growing up? Which ones continue to inspire you?
AC: I’ve always looked up to Hillary Clinton. As a first lady, senator and Secretary of State, she’s been a courageous and defiant leader paving the way for young women like me. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton has also been a role model for me; I’ve long admired her ability to translate her activist background into a successful career in office where she’s continued to fight for civil rights and D.C. statehood.
HC: What challenges have you had to overcome as a woman in a male-dominated field?
AC: When I was first elected, it was difficult to get respect from constituents and my colleagues on the commission. I believe that this was also due in part to my age, but gender created an additional challenge. I had to learn to use my position as one of the few women in office as a benefit as opposed to a barrier.
HC: What are three policies you’d want to help implement if you achieve your goal of becoming a congresswoman?
AC: I hope that many of these policies are implemented before I am eligible to run for Congress, but if they are not, I intend to fight for an indexed minimum wage, so that if the cost of living surges, salaries increase as well. Economic growth should not only be felt by CEOs. I also plan to implement a paid leave policy, coupled with strong early childhood education programs for low-income families as well as restructure our criminal justice system so that non-violent drug offenses are treated as a condition as opposed to a crime.
HC: How do you feel about the political landscape of the upcoming election?
AC: I’m hopeful. Aside from the nonsense that the media has focused on this year, I am encouraged by the fact that less than a century after some women secured the right to vote, Secretary Clinton is months away from becoming the first female President of the United States.
Even though he did not secure the nomination, Bernie Sanders’s campaign proved that connecting with and empowering young voters can lead to victory. He has shown that our politics should not be about the individuals in positions of power, but the issues and the people they will affect. I was most inspired by his call for his supporters, everyday people, to run for office in their communities.
HC: If you could meet any former president, who would it be?
AC: Harry S. Truman. Earlier this year, I was awarded the Truman Scholarship which will allow me to go to law school. There are several things that I admire about Truman: his decision to integrate the military, his Fair Deal plan and his push for universal healthcare. However, I’ve always struggled with his decision to authorize the use of nuclear weapons. I’ve read arguments and justifications from scholars and ethicists, but I would love to meet President Truman and discuss his decision.
HC: You already met First Lady Michelle Obama… Do you see the White House in your future in terms of a career?
AC: If that’s where my career takes me, I’d be honored, but at this juncture, I just want to serve in whatever capacity allows me to make an impact. If that’s in a classroom, on the House floor or in the West Wing, I’d be thrilled for the opportunity to make a difference.
HC: What advice would you give to other collegiettes interested in a similar career path?
AC: It’s never too early to get started. When I decided to run for office, there were many naysayers who urged me to wait until it was “my turn.” So, I decided that my turn was now.