woman posing in front of new york skyline

Meet Nikita Leus: Young Activist at Columbia University

Nikita Leus first got involved in politics as a sophomore in high school. Now, she is a sophomore at Columbia University taking a gap year to help work on campaigns for the upcoming national election. Nikita works hard every day to ensure she's doing everything she can to have her voice heard. 

Her Campus (HC): What inspired you to get involved in politics at such a young age?

Nikita Leus (NL): I first got involved in 2016 because hearing Donald Trump talk about immigrants in the way that he did was not only hurtful, but I knew for a fact that it was untrue. Our immigrant parents aren’t rapists or murderers or drug dealers. My parents are both small business owners who give back to the community that gave them so much. As I was growing up, my mom ran her business right out of my home, so I witnessed first-hand how hard she works and how she wasn’t all the horrible things Donald Trump said. In 2016, I had just turned 15, so I wasn’t old enough to vote yet, but I still wanted to have my voice heard. Organizing and getting involved with the [Hillary Clinton] campaign and getting all of my friends involved was a good way to still have my voice heard and still play a part in the election without having to vote.

HC: Do you think that more people should get involved in politics at the age you did, or wait until they are a bit older?

NL: You are never too young to get involved in politics. As soon as you are able to get involved you should. I think the reason why it’s so hard to get 18-year-olds to vote is because we are not expected to do anything political until we’re 18. Getting involved in high school starts preparing young people to expect this culture of political participation. I recognize that not everyone can get involved; I was really lucky that I was able to find work in politics at such a young age.

HC: What inspired you to take a semester off of school?

NL: I felt so crushed in 2016. I poured my heart and soul into [the 2016] election and to lose to Donald Trump felt like such a punch in the face. The fact that people in our country actually voted for him and believe in the hate that he spews was so hurtful, and I don’t think I would have been okay with myself sitting on the sidelines when there’s a chance to get him out of office. For democrats up and down the ballot, this year especially, it’s been so obvious that President isn’t the only position that matters.

HC: What campaign are you working on, and what enticed you to choose this specific one?

NL: I’m working for the Nevada Democratic Coordinated Campaign, which means we’re pushing for all democrats up and down the ballot. So, when we call people, we don’t just ask them to vote for Joe Biden but also to vote for the democratic candidate running for congress, state senate or state assembly. It’s important to have democrats at every level. Nevada is also a battleground state; it went blue for Hillary but just by a couple of points. It’s one of those states where people are starting to get comfortable thinking it will go blue again for the election in November, but that is not for sure. Nevada can go blue, but the work must be put in to get there.

HC: What has been the most rewarding part of your experience? Your biggest conflict or struggle?

NL: The most rewarding part for me right now is working with my fellows. I have two fellows that are in high school, and I got involved as a fellow in high school in 2016 and it was life-changing for me. It opened my eyes to just how much power we have. It’s just a matter of tapping into that power and using it. It’s been incredibly rewarding teaching my fellows and having them run our phonebanks and take on more and more responsibility.

gun violence protest Unsplash

HC: Are there any issues you are particularly passionate about?

NL: I think something that is really important to me is gun control. I got really involved in gun control advocacy after Marjory Stoneman Douglas [a high school where a gunman took 17 lives two years ago with a semi-automatic rifle], which was roughly 50 miles away from our high school. It really seemed to me that it was a very real possibility that MSD could’ve easily been us. We were a school of a similar size, I had friends there, we played them in sports sometimes… it could’ve been us. I remember organizing the walkout, the leadership summit and giving talks about how to organize and mobilize around gun control. This is a uniquely American problem that is entirely fixable. I remember talking to my classmates last semester, and every single one of us has had a nightmare about being in a school shooting – that is not normal. We have to pass the laws that will protect us. People are literally dying.

HC: Do you have any advice for people who would like to get involved in politics?

NL: There are so many different ways to get involved; you can look up volunteer opportunities with your state party. This is a great year if you are interested in politics to become an intern or a fellow and put in 10-20 hours a week working on something you’re passionate about. This time period only comes around once every four years. Think about how awful it will feel if the election does not go your way and you think of all the ways you could’ve done more.

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