One thing that can be said about the current generation of young gays is that they are a smart and ambitious lot. Eugene Resnick, an openly gay candidate for National Membership Director of the College Democrats, definitely fits that mold. He's focused, savvy and "cliched as it sounds" committed to making a difference.
I had the chance to ask Eugene some questions about being openly gay, youth political involvement and why being a "gay Russian Jew from Brooklyn" can be an asset.
MC: There is more than a little hand-wringing from some older people over what they see as a lack of political involvement from younger people. You are clearly not living up to that image.
ER: I hope that I can make a difference in our society as cliché as that sounds. I want to raise the voice of those who have no voice. I understand what its like to be the one that's counted out. I see many young people who are very engaged and very much care about the society we live in and the changes we need enacted. Our generation understands the complexities ahead and the deep institutional problems that this country has faced.
For us, race, gender and sexuality don't really matter anymore as a factor in judgment of one's character. We are for the most part the first generation that transcends such superficial human traits and sees everyone on the same playing field. I hope to remain active, continue on by earning a higher education in law and public policy, and eventually serve the public by running for office. In the meantime, I hope to do whatever I can to engage my fellow young people in the political process so that they can be active members of our thriving democracy.
What Makes Eugene Run?
MC: Is that why you want to be National Membership Director for the College Democrats?
ER: I am running because I believe I have the foresight, experience, and passion needed to be successful in this position. The National Membership Director position requires an individual with an ability to build coalitions between groups and establish friendships and contacts with people that are not usual coalition partners.
With an election year this year that has so much Democratic enthusiasm for our candidate, Barack Obama, there is so much potential for massive growth in terms of membership in College Democrats organizations throughout the country. We can expand into all 50 states, forming local and state chapters at schools that have never had a College Democrats organization. There are many students across the country who feel ostracized for being a Democrat especially in more conservative regions, and this must end.
At a time with so much enthusiasm for change, there is much potential to be tapped into in terms of youth activism and involvement in politics that has not been seen since the 1960s. The role of the National Membership Director is to spearhead new chapters, get more students involved in College Democrats, and outreach to individuals of all backgrounds to ensure the Democratic Party grows and further diversifies. I believe I can help make that happen.
MC: What are some of the skills and experiences that make you qualified for that role?
ER: I served as Minority and Women's Affairs Coordinator at the University Democrats at the University of Virginia reaching out to various Black, Latino, Asian, LGBT and Women's groups on campus to get them more politically involved and have a voice within the Democratic Party. I formed the first ever statewide College Democrats organization in Virginia bringing together students from across the state to bring to the forefront the voice of college students in the Commonwealth.
My tenure as President of the statewide organization resulted in the recent merger with the Virginia Young Democrats forming a massive young Democratic organization in Virginia poised to register large amounts of new young voters, have their voices heard by getting them to the polls, but mostly importantly have young people engaged in the American political discourse. I currently am interning in Washington, DC with the National Stonewall Democrats specifically working on field operations across the country, helping chapters build membership and outreach along with helping them target certain races this election cycle.
Being Gay Not What it Used to Be
MC: Has been openly gay hurt or helped you in taking on leadership roles with the College Democrats?
ER: Being openly gay has helped me in taking on leadership roles with the College Democrats. My first election was when I ran for Minority and Women's Affairs Coordinator at the University Democrats at the University of Virginia. I ran on the platform of not only being a fresh face, but also by taking ownership of my multiple minority identity. I was the "gay Russian Jew from Brooklyn" running in a race in a majority white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant, institution in the South.
One might think I was tokenized into the minority leadership role, but I stood up as a voice for the LGBT community at the University on the Board of Directors. Now I have risen up the ladder into leadership statewide. I have a large network of friends and colleagues with whom I am politically and academically involved who serve as my support system. I have never felt hindered being openly gay and that is a reflection of how our generation is so vastly different from any other in American history.
MC: What do you say to other young people to help them realize their political power?
ER: Facebook is a powerful tool and it has proven to be an extremely effective way of mobilizing people to become involved in a cause. I tell other young people I meet who may be cynical or wary of politics if at all interested is that that they have a stake in society. Young people today are vastly different from generations before and there are a multitude of problems that this country is facing today that need to be fixed and we are the generation to make it happen. We are over the race divisions of the 50s and 60s and the gay baiting of the 80s and 90s. We grew up with gay Student Body Presidents, blacks and whites, Latinos and Asians sitting at the same table, and females occupying a majority of the education system. We are Generation Y.
I let people know that there must be an issue that affects them whether its outrageous gas prices, denial of their civil rights as gay or black or Latino or an immigrant, predatory student loans that haunt students for years to come, high college costs, difficulty getting health insurance as a young independent person, or having their friends or family member die for a war that was poorly executed and under false pretenses. I tell them that they have a stake in this election and in the future with all these issues that impact them one way or another.