I feel extremely grateful for the privilege that we have as American citizens to live in a democracy where we can make our political voice heard. As a former participant of California’s Youth and Government, I first met Andrew Blumenfeld when he was running to be the Youth Governor. Leading his campaign with passion, integrity, and motivation for implementation, he led the program with great success when he was elected. It is such an honor to present him as our Sunny Star this week and have him share his newest project, Students for Marriage.
I highly encourage you to “like” Students for Marriage on Facebook, which you can access here. The group is a component of Freedom to Marry, which supports equality in love and marriage. That is certainly something to be happy about!
Here is my interview with Andrew…
1. You were the Youth Governor of Youth and Government. Can you tell us about the program and how much happiness it brought you?
AB: Youth & Government is a terrific organization that brings together students to engage one another in a way that breeds civility, thoughtfulness, and life-long engagement with one’s communities. Specifically, California has designed a high school model legislature and court with multiple statewide conferences where students prepare locally throughout the year to assume the roles of key players in the world of civic engagement (everything from lobbyists, to judges, to press, to Governor); the culmination of the local and statewide preparation is the 5-day conference in Sacramento where these roles are played out using the Capitol’s facilities (again, everything from the CA Supreme Court to the Governor’s Office). The opportunity to meet so many different people from a range of backgrounds through the Youth & Government program was a tremendous source of happiness in my life, and–more importantly–gave me skills, lessons, and experiences that continue to bring me happiness to this day, and I anticipate will continue to bring me happiness well into my future.
2. As Youth Governor, and as a politically active student at Princeton, what change in our country would make you the happiest?
AB: Abstractly speaking, I think the change our country is in most dire need of today is a maturity of how we consider and discuss questions of public policy. As the country becomes more diverse in the aggregate, the localities individuals exist in have become increasingly homogenous (politically, ethnically, etc.). This seems to lead people to believe that issues can be broken down into simply ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, and opinions can be broken down simply to ‘legitimate’ and ‘illegitimate’. This is just not so. When people begin to understand not only their own opinion, but the opinions of others–and to accept those opinions as genuine and legitimate, as they do their own–we will begin to see a much more developed political discourse that understands that, in our world, most things are just “more complicated than that.” This complexity should be far from scary. It ought to be welcomed and not brushed aside because it can’t be broken down into a 30 second sound-bite. If we’re going to have a 24-hour news cycle, let’s tell the whole story. Reasonable minds can reasonably differ on a whole lot– but reason, in general, tends to be far from radical.
3. You are involved with Students for Marriage. Can you tell us about the organization and what your involvement has been?
AB: Students for Marriage is the student component of ‘Freedom to Marry‘ which is the leading campaign to win marriage equality for all loving and committed couples. As an intern with Freedom to Marry this summer I was tasked on my first day with developing and implementing a strategy to engage 18-29 year olds in our fight to win marriage equality. After a summer of research and speaking with many experts in the field of youth engagement and LGBT rights, I settled on establishing Students for Marriage to help bring pertinent information and tools to use that information effectively to this overwhelmingly supportive demographic. We have launched on Facebook and just a week in we’ve seen a great response– about 1,800 likes! I have worked with Freedom to Marry to develop a plan that sees this organization grow both on and off-line over the next year and beyond; I can’t wait to see where it goes, and play any part I can.
4. What has been your greatest challenge as an activist and how have you overcome this?
AB: I’ve been blessed to be surrounded by very interesting and interested people for much of my life. From Youth & Government to Princeton, many of my peers and communities have valued involvement in issues worth caring and fighting for. The challenge, though, that this sometimes poses is this: in a world with an infinite amount of causes worth concerning yourself with, and a finite amount of resources with which to dedicate that concern, how do you convince people that the cause you’re fighting for, is the one they should be fighting for, too? This is where passion comes in. Feeling the truly indescribable fire of passion for your cause is contagious–and the better you are at communicating that passion, that faster it spreads. In some ways, passion can probably be described as both the engine and fuel of happiness; it is both how we know what brings us happiness, and how we get it.
5. What do you think teens can do to make more of a political impact?
AB: The best thing young people can do to make an impact is to be present. I think many young people (and people in general) get the idea that decisions are made by people who are older, richer, and smarter than they are who have some magic pull over society and the way it runs. While there are certainly career politicians, and seasoned power-brokers in the world, at the end of the day Congressmen, Judges, Governors, Presidents, etc. aren’t making decisions in a vacuum, but rather in a greater context shaped by the behaviors and actions of those who choose to get involved and be present. Whenever students and young people have begun to fear that the world being left to them by the previous generation is not the one they want to live in and taken up the charge of seeing that rectified, tremendously successful movements have resulted in some pretty remarkable things. Being ‘accounted for’ starts, of course, with being present.