Be Your Biggest Advocate

Rachel Zhang is a teenager from Minnesota with hopes to change the world, and she believes that all young people have the potential to do the same. As a first-time voter, Rachel not only worked as a field organizer in a local campaign during this past election cycle, but she is also involved with the Rochester Community Initiative and was a Bernie Sanders delegate at the DNC. In this interview, Rachel discusses her involvement in community politics and why she believes young people should always be their own biggest advocates.

 

1. In your opinion, what are the 3 most impactful ways to get involved in the election cycle this year, and why?

It really depends on how much time someone has to help out, but for this very unique election cycle the best ways to help are...

  1. Phone/text banking for candidates. There is little to no door knocking this election which is usually the main method of voter contact. In order to reach into the community, candidates need volunteers to call and educate voters on their campaign.

  2. Donating! Donations go towards paying campaign staff, radio adds, social media adds, and overall getting that candidate more exposure!

  3. Relational organizing: reaching into your own network of people and making sure they are educated on every candidate on their ballot, have the resources to vote, and encouraging them to participate in the election.

 

2. How are you involved in your community’s politics, and what sparked your interest?

I run a nonprofit that advocates for issues that our community's youth care about (climate, police reform, education) and have worked with candidates to push for more progressive stances. I also worked for the Minnesota DFL as a field organizer on a local campaign. For this job, I recruited volunteers, hosted phone banks, and managed the interns on the campaign. I wanted to get a job in this election because I felt like there was not enough being done by the democratic party to reach into certain communities (young people, low income, BIPOC) and because of how online everything had to be this year, I knew I could navigate this process better than some long time organizers.

 

3. Why do you think young people should get involved?

I know that many students feel like we are never given a seat at the table. We feel as if all of our worries and ideas are ignored by politicians. Getting directly involved into the election cycle not only allows you to make changes directly on candidates and community members, but it also gives you an advantage if that candidate gets elected. By establishing a relationship with candidates and community organizations, you have given yourself a platform to speak out and push for the solutions you care about.

 

4. What are common misconceptions young people seem to have about getting involved with politics at the local, state, and national levels, and what is your response to those misconceptions?

Although young people can be disregarded at times, our perspective and experiences are valued if you have good ideas that come from them. When I started my job, I was nervous that I would be ignored and looked down on but quickly realized that everyone has the same goal. To get the candidate elected and start moving towards a better future. As long as you can put in high quality work and demonstrate your determination towards the cause, it's a really fun experience to work with people who are not the same age as you or have a very different background. Also, I really urge students to value the work and time you do. I was told that I would not get paid for an internship on a campaign, but after setting up a call and explaining my experience and skills that I had to offer (and that I would not do an unpaid position), I was given my paid position as a field organizer. Always be your biggest advocate!