Young Professionals Have to Lead
“All politics are local,” is a truism that can be lost in the national narrative that engulfs the country every four years during the presidential election. Yet decisions about how local schools are governed and funded, how city resources are allocated between recreation, policing, and infrastructure and countless other decisions that affect our quality of life and the neighborhoods we love, are made every few weeks by local elected officials. In less than 2 weeks, qualifying will end for Fall elections in New Orleans. While everyone will speculate on the increased turnout because of the “Obama Effect” or bemoan that young voters aren’t as excited this time around, what will be foremost in my mind, is this fact: In 1996, Illinois’ 13th District, which at that time spanned Chicago’s South Side neighborhoods, elected a 35 year old Barack Obama to represent them in the Illinois State Senate; boosting up the young man who would become the 44th President.
There will be several local races on the November 6th ballot –all 7 school board seats and both District E and District B city council seats. This is an opportunity to galvanize around and support a new generation of leadership. When given the opportunity to appoint someone under the age of 35 to fill the vacated council seats on an interim basis, the City Council instead fought with each other and the administration, resulting in appointments that I believe can be interpreted only one way: Young professionals and young families, the city of New Orleans wants your energy and tax base, but doesn’t want your leadership.
As young professionals in this city, we choose to live in New Orleans because of the resilience of our community and the potential for greatness that is explicit in the city’s rebirth. We live here because of the opportunity to begin our families and pursue our dreams in a truly unique and historic time. We are not transient; rather we are the fortified pilings for which this city’s foundation has to be rebuilt upon. In less than 2 weeks, I hope that several young professionals offer themselves for public service, and I hope we rally and support their campaigns. Those who have political power have not shown a willingness to support young leadership –they want us to pay property taxes, but not be politically active.
At the 2012 Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, a Democratic Party fundraiser, Newark Mayor Corey Booker –elected to the Newark City Council as a 29 year old and elected mayor as a 37 year old –spoke about all the people that came before him who’s names he would never know as part of a “conspiracy of love” that helped get him to where he is. He told the crowd to “know upon whose shoulder you stand,” but also implored the crowd to “stand up for who you are, and stand for your ideals.” Often times in our anxiousness to make a difference, young leaders are accused of not showing enough deference and respect. But just as when you literally stand upon someone else’s shoulders, those at the bottom must remember their responsibility to uplift and provide a helpful boost. Would it not be disrespectful and ungrateful, if we chose to shirk our obligation to use the skills we’ve gained from the education and opportunities that were afforded us through the sacrifices of those that came before us, in hopes that someone older and wiser will solve our city’s most pressing problems while we sit back and wait. Generational tension is common in leadership transitions, but there has never been a prosperous society that survived without grooming and supporting young leaders.
Young professionals also have to be willing to support each other and to serve –to make financial and personal sacrifices –in order to improve the lives of our neighbors. It’s not enough that we’d really like to see and hope for a safer, healthier, and more prosperous New Orleans; these hopes have to be something we feel in our souls that we have to have, and they should compel us to act. Will we be content to get wrapped up in the national narrative around the presidential election, or will we stand up for our ideals and stand with our peers that seek out elected office? New Orleans is capable of electing the next Corey Booker to the City Council, or the next Barack Obama to the State Senate, if we boost each other up and defer only to an agenda that improves our communities. This Fall, it’s imperative we embrace our impatience!