Posted February 8, 2013 at 3:34 PM
by Kenzi Green, Director of Communications, College Democrats of America
How did you get your start in public service? Whether you were the president of your eighth-grade class or got your start canvassing for a Congressional candidate, your leadership is important to the future of our country. In our #CDALeads series, you’ll meet CDA leaders from across the country and learn their story. In this post, CDA Northeast Regional Director Daniel Torres talks about his experience running for his local school board.
On November 4th, 2008, I sat in front of my television and watched as President-Elect Barack Obama walked on stage in front of thousands of supporters to give his victory speech. It was my senior year in high school; in between applying to schools and being a part of various clubs I volunteered extensively for the campaign. I had never worked on a political campaign in such depth before. Really, I had never been that interested in politics prior to that campaign, but on that night I felt as though even in maybe just a small way I had made a real difference and frankly I didn’t want that feeling to stop.
I decided that I wanted to do something to help my community, and although some thought it was crazy, I decided to run for a seat on my local school board. Hindsight truly is 20/20; I really didn’t know much about running for a local office. I knew I needed thirty valid signatures to make the ballot (twenty signatures less then it took me to run for class Vice President). My understanding of the board had come from my time as the student representative on the school board. I had received this honored position because I was the only Student Government member who was willing to do it.
My candidacy was certainly a spectacle in the small town of New Paltz, New York. Such a thing happening wasn’t such a shock to some as New Paltz isn’t your average upstate town. The 1960’s may have technically ended when the clock struck midnight on December 31st 1969. However, there is certainly a group in my town that refuses to believe that and with the town of Woodstock only a few minutes away it isn’t hard to understand why.
I campaigned on my unique perspective as someone from the school system. I advocated for green initiatives to help the environment and save money. I fought for healthier lunches and fought to make sure that the nutritional value of food be posted in cafeterias so students knew what they were eating. I didn’t want to be seen as just a “student” candidate so I advocated that the school board should take a more active role in the State in order to curb property taxes. I wanted to make sure that whether you were a senior in high school or a senior citizen you should be proud of our schools and want to stay in our community in part because of them.
On Election Day I filled out a hall pass and sat outside the entrance of my high school gym and waited for the polls to open. I was the first person on line. At that moment I wondered if I had done the right thing. I wondered if anyone had truly listened to the things I campaigned for I wondered if anyone had seen me as something more than just a “kid.” Then the line quickly started to fill. Noticeably with newly minted eighteen year old high school students.
Later that night as they read the results to a small crowd I was nowhere to be found. I was down the hall singing in the Spring Concert which had fallen on the same night. When I finally got to the gym I was approached by a reporter who told me that I had in fact won and that our budget passed by one of the highest margin in district history (in part due to young voters).
On that night, as my high school career was coming to an end I learned a not so insignificant lesson. The united voices of your youth in a Country, a State, and yes, even a small community can certainly make a real difference. Regardless of age you truly can make a difference and make a change for the better and even if it may seem scary there is nothing more important than standing up for what you believe in even if not everyone believe in you.
-Daniel Torres, CDA Northeast Regional Director