On Thursday, progressive student group Campus Progress hosted a panel discussion on “How Young People are Changing Politics” as part of its 2012 national conference. The panelists discussed many issues, but one message stood out above the rest: if you want to get ahead, you need to work hard.
Ronnie Cho, White House Liaison to Young Americans, told conference attendees that “hard work and responsibility are rewarded in this country.” He said that he finds inspiration pushing for “expanded opportunity, for other folks, for other families.”
On whether young people have “a real role in the White House,” Cho said, “Yes. Absolutely. He expanded this statement later, telling the young audience that “not only are we at the table, we are the table.”
Lori Lodes, Vice President for Communications at the Center for American Progress, argued that women should have an expanded role in leadership in America. She noted that women make up 51 percent of the population, but only 21 percent of Congress.
“That is huge disparity,” she said. “The reality is we need more women at every level.”
But in order for women to get ahead, they need to work hard, she said.
“The only one fighting for you is going to be you,” Lodes explained. She sought to motivate women in the audience, saying, “you are incredibly smart and incredibly talented, but you just have to push yourself to get out there and do even more.”
Sean Eldridge, President of the environmentalist advocacy group Hudson River Ventures, said that young people have energized politics. “What I really think young people brought to the table,” he explained, “is a sense of impatience, a sense of urgency.”
Eldridge emphasized the importance of reaching across the aisle, telling the young activists that, “All the work is not going to happen in this room.”
“All of us went to college and high school and grew up with people who are not progressive,” and he said that even though conservatives may be annoying, “we have to keep those relationships.”
When an audience member asked for job advice, Cho described the campaign world as “a true meritocracy.” “Keep your head down, work hard, look right, smell right,” he advised. “All those things are very important.”
Lodes agreed. “No, but really, work hard,” she said. “If you work hard, you will be noticed, and you will be appreciated, and you will get further.”
Eldridge suggested that students and recent graduates take advantage of being young. He advised them to find out “what are the most important issues in the world that need to be tackled,” and pursue it. But he added that they should find “the gaps, what is not being worked on” and discover their own strengths before choosing an issue to fight for.
Sam Graham-Felsen, the moderator of the panel and the former Chief Blogger for Obama for America in 2008, advised young people to “be a utility player…fill in gaps, work where you’re needed.”
He told the audience single line that a single line got him his job with Obama: “I will work my ass off and do whatever is necessary to get help Obama become President.”