Interview with Emily Sussman, Policy Fellow at Campus Progress

24.7.13




As the former Chief Executive of the Young Democrats of America, Emily Sussman has been involved in some of the most exciting and galvanising campaigns that American politics and society as seen. In her role as a Policy Fellow at Campus Progress, Emily is continuing her passion for public service.

I was delighted to interview Emily for Political Style, and carry on reading for her insight into the 2012 Election campaign, the key issues facing America and if Secretary Clinton will run for President.

How did you become involved with politics and what encouraged you to support the Democratic Party?
In college, I became very involved with the fight for reproductive health rights for all women. I didn’t want a bunch of male lawmakers deciding what women could do with their own bodies! The Democratic Party is a natural fit for me because they are the party that supports policies that reflect my values of respecting people’s self-worth and justice, including women’s rights.  At the time, President Bush was gearing up for his reelection campaign. I wanted to make sure he wouldn’t appoint Supreme Court judges who could threaten Roe v. Wade, so I decided to work for John Kerry’s presidential
campaign. That was my first step into politics, and after that, I was hooked!

How did you become involved with YDA? 
Following my work on the Kerry campaign and law school, I became involved with repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell at the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.  At SLDN part of my job was to run a coalition of youth organizations, including YDA, to put pressure on Congress to repeal the law. One day I was having lunch with the President of YDA and found out that they were looking for a new Executive Director. In Washington D.C., it’s all about meeting the right people at the right time!

What was your role and responsibilities as the Executive Director?
As the Executive Director of YDA, I ran a membership based organization of 200,000 Millennials in almost all 50 states. I created and ran electoral campaign programs, as well as represented young progressives in the media. Millenials are so smart, sometimes the older generations forget to ask for our input, particularly when debating issues that heavily impact us.  We are changing the shape of democracies, abroad and in America. The huge recent shift in support in America for same-sex marriage can be credited with strong support among young people. When Freedom to Marry launched a campaign to get the Democratic Party and Barack Obama to formally endorse marriage equality, I am proud to have been the first group leader to sign on. Young people are leading Americans on this issue, and we need our representation to reflect that.

What were your highs and lows of the 2012 Election campaign?
There were so many great moments of the campaign, but one of my favorites was on the very last day. I spent Election Day answering phones at the Obama call center in Des Moines, Iowa. So many people called in wanting to vote, and I was able to help them by directing them to their polling place and
advising them on what documentation they needed. Iowa has great voting laws, where you can register on the same day, so basically everyone who wanted to vote could cast a ballot. It felt incredible seeing our democracy in action!

A low point would definitely have to be how some of the national conversation played out. I was very disappointed when the definition of rape became part of the national narrative. I couldn’t believe some of the beliefs I was hearing and was surprised that rape was a legitimate debate. People need to know how the government is going to stabilize their lives and society, and now legislate on morality.  Another high point was that none of the people who took these extreme positions were elected!

You're in a new role as a Policy Fellow at Campus Progress. What does this involve?
At Campus Progress, I work to engage millenials on the issue of gun violence. Young people are disproportionately affected by the violence,  so we are the generation that is excited and motivated to mobilize for better gun laws. I teach young people how to advocate for gun laws that will keep them safe and figure out how to strategically create a national infrastructure on the issue. There is so much tragedy, with thirty-three Americans being killed by gun violence every single day, young people are pivoting off the high profile situations like Sandy Hook Elementary and Trayvon Martin to create a national revolution.

How would you encourage politically interested young individuals to become involved in politics?
There are so many great ways for young people to become involved, but the first step is to find the issue that you’re passionate about! No matter what the issue is, there will be other people around you who are passionate about it too. Find those people and go to a meeting or start a group of your own.

Write about the issue for a local blog or newspaper to get your voice heard. Volunteer or intern with an elected official to see the political process up close. There isn’t a right or wrong way to get involved, so do what you enjoy!

How can young individuals make a real difference in their local communities? 
Young people have the power! We are here to stay, so elected officials want to know what you have to say and what you care about. Make your voice heard!

What do you think are the key issues facing America in the next five years?
Before we can tackle any specific problem, we need to figure out how to work together. Our nation is becoming more and more divided, so we have to see the humanity in each other and find the common ground. Otherwise, we won’t be able to solve the most pervasive problems facing us, like our lack of
jobs and struggling economy.

Do you hope that Hillary Clinton will run for President in 2016? 
I recently stumbled onto an episode of Saved by the Bell, a television show from the early 1990’s about a group of high school students.  In the episode, characters complained about our lack of a female president. It’s now twenty years later, and we still haven’t had one! We need politicians who represent
the American public, and women have never been represented in the White House. It’s long overdue for a woman president, and more than just a woman, Secretary Clinton is incredibly well qualified to be President.

What are your plans for the future? Do you think you will run for political office?  
I’ll continue to figure out what issues will be important to the next generations of Americans and lay the groundwork for those fights. I’m very interested in transgender and gender nonconformity issues, voting modernization, and many others. Although I have no plans to run for political office, I will do everything I can to ensure that all Americans are fully represented by our government and always encourage young people to run. If you don’t have a seat at the table, there is a good chance you are on the menu.

Emily Sussman

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