This past week saw the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, and the week before that the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Party conventions, along with formally nominating their party’s candidate for president, also showcase some of the party’s most promising leaders. Generation Progress spoke with one of those leaders: Naeemah Charles, a 21-year-old superdelegate for the Democratic Party from California and 2016 graduate from San Francisco State University. We talked to Charles about her journey, her role as a superdelegate, and youth engagement in politics.
This interview has been edited lightly for clarity.
Generation Progress (GP): First, I’d like to ask: what’s it like being a superdelegate?
Charles: Being a superdelegate is an unbelievable and incredible experience that I do not take lightly. With the current state of America and the 2016 election cycle, I know that being a superdelegate means having a direct impact on the future and direction of America. Being at the convention center, I am so honored to be among so many community activist and elected officials. From my experience, being a superdelegate is extremely humbling and only makes me want to work harder.
GP: Can you tell us about how you became one?
Charles: I became a superdelegate through College Democrats of America. I have been involved with politics broadly and College Democrats specifically since my freshman year of college, four years ago. I have spent my entire college career organizing on college campuses throughout my state, and recently have been allowed to mobilize students on a national level. This past year, I had the privilege to serve as the Vice Chair of College Democrats of America which made me a Democratic National Committee executive board member. Due to this role, I am a super delegate!
GP: How old are you?
Charles: 21. I might be the youngest superdelegate, but I’m not sure!
GP: That’s incredible that you’re so young and so engaged. I know many of your fellow superdelegates are older, established politicians. What’s the youth representation like in the superdelegate sphere?
Charles: I have a few Millennial friends and colleagues who are delegates for the convention. Most of them are delegates by running in their Assembly District election. Off the top of my head, I can only think of one other young superdelegate: the President of College Democrats of America, Marv McMoore Jr. There are quite a few young people I know who are alternates, but it would be better if they had a seat at the table. We need more young people in politics period, but especially as delegates to ensure the vision of the party continues to be a vision young people can fight for.
GP: What do you have to say to the people who feel that superdelegates have a disproportionate position of power?
Charles: I understand their concerns surrounding superdelegates, and am okay with change—I don’t want anyone to feel silenced. I, however, view superdelegates as a mechanism to give people the ability to have a seat at the table. I think it is important to note that superdelegates allow space for more people who are not elected officials to be involved with the future and direction of the party. Being a delegate is a huge honor and provides people with direct say in the direction of the Democratic Party, and ultimately the lives of people living in the United States. If superdelegates are completely extinguished, elected officials will most likely run in the delegate elections. Every elected that runs and wins in the delegate election, due to name recognition and a financial backing, takes away a seat for community activist and everyday people to become delegates. I want everyone to have an opportunity to experience the convention, not just the people at the very top. Yes, change is necessary—but we must be critical regarding what type of change is best for our country.
GP: There are a lot of young people out there who think that their votes might not matter. Why should young people be civically engaged?
Young people are the most passionate people on earth, we know that the world can change, and that one day we will be in the position to make that change. Due to this passion, many young people may at times become disheartened by the state of America, about constantly having to defend basic human rights. Young people should be civically engaged because we do not have to wait for those who hold power to listen to us, we have the power to make them listen. Young people have been at the forefront of every major change in history, and will need to mobilize to ignite the change that America needs. We must be civically engaged because when we do not pay attention as much in off year elections, there is a ton of legislation passed at the local, state, and national level that directly impacts us. When we are civically engaged and vote early and often, campaign managers take note, and we become a group of people they cannot ignore.
GP: What advice would you give to a young person who would like to follow in your footsteps?
The advice I like to give to everyone who asks is to not be afraid to shine. Do not be afraid to dream, and go after your dreams. Four years ago, being a delegate at the DNC for 2016 was a far-off dream, but I found a way to make it a reality. I would say push yourself harder than ever and don’t be afraid to stick to your values. To shine, you will also need to do the work. There were so many times were I wouldn’t see my friends for months or would feel overwhelmed but I kept focused and believed in myself. Lastly, the most important thing is to pull as many people up with you, as you begin to rise. This is how I was able to become a superdelegate in one of the most historic election cycles in American history.