Local Politicians Discuss Civic Engagement with Students

Cobb County Democratic Party Chair Michael Owens speaks to Emory students Tuesday./Sarah Taha, Staff

During Young Democrats of Emory’s “Dinner with Local Representatives,” Lindy Miller, a Georgia public service commissioner candidate, turned to a group of five Emory students and asked why they care about being involved in politics. Their “appetite for engagement” thrills the mother of three, who grew up in a family that openly discussed racism, sexism and the importance of claiming basic rights.

At a table a few feet over, Miller’s opponent, John Noel, shared his own values with students. He said he’s hoping his understanding of environmental ethics, as well as youth voting participation, will help him succeed in the upcoming primary election.

On May 22, voters will elect Miller or Noel, who both attended Tuesday night’s Young Democrats of Emory event. About 30 Emory students and several other local representatives, including Cobb County Democratic Party Chair Michael Owens and Georgia State Reps. Brenda Lopez (D-Norcross) and Yasmin Neal (D-Jonesboro), attended the student event.

Neal, who is running for re-election, said that speaking with young voters is important.

“A lot of times, some older people tend to discount the youth,” Neal said. “It’s very important for us to come back, explain our situations, explain our experiences, talk about the good things [and] talk about the bad things.”

After Neal talked with multiple Emory students, she said she found one concerning similarity: the feeling of underrepresentation.

“If the youth at this age still feel like they’re not properly represented, we have a huge problem,” Neal said. “In 2018, we shouldn’t still be saying that, especially in Atlanta.”

Atlanta local Kailey Nelson (21C) said she’s felt the direct impact of some of these representatives’ work.

“It’s important to realize that issues that affect you and may be changing are important,” Nelson said.

Hayden Davis (21C), an international student from the United Kingdom, said the most interesting part of the event was how the representatives and candidates interacted with student attendees.

“It was really interesting talking to both the opposing candidates … to see the differences in their character and how they present themselves,” David said.

He said that summed up to distinctions in policy experience and liberal inclinations.

“It’s rare you have both primary candidates in the same room who you can talk to, side by side,” Davis said.

Kate Schnitzer (19C), a Young Democrats executive board member who oversees fundraising and outreach initiatives for the organization, said that Young Democrats organized “Dinner with Local Representatives” to give Emory students a “direct, free” way to engage with local politicians they may not otherwise have the chance to meet.

“A lot of these students we have registered as Georgia voters, so they, theoretically, should know who their representatives are,” Schnitzer said.

Schnitzer doesn’t plan on going into politics, but she enjoys helping people exercise political engagement. She said she joined Young Democrats because she wanted to help students register to vote in the 2016 election.

“I’m just a Democrat,” she said, adding that she simply wants to encourage political participation.

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