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Getting politically active while in college

By Gabrielle Beacken
News Assistant

Young Democratic leaders of New Jersey gathered together to form a discussion panel for the event “Forging the Future: Stories of Success from New Jersey’s Young Democratic Leaders” on Wednesday, Nov. 12, to discuss the critical participation of young people in politics. The event was hosted by the College Democrats and College Democrats of New Jersey.

“Political engagement is at the core of building a better future,” said Sam Fogelgaren, junior history and urban studies double major and president of TCNJ College Democrats. “College occupies a unique period of time in our lives in which we are strongly encouraged to constantly question, develop and learn.”

The moderator, Jeannine LaRue, introduced the panel, including Daniel R. Benson, Tennille McCoy, Milly Silva, Chris James and Vin Gopal.

“I really wanted to be the change I talked about,” said LaRue, reminiscing about the beginning of her long political career. The purpose of the event was to teach young students how to get involved in politics to create the type “of change that you want to see,” LaRue said.

LaRue’s long political resume includes serving as deputy chief of staff for former New Jersey Governor Jon S. Corzine.

“There are so many areas … where you can make change,” LaRue said. “There are so many things, so many options.” LaRue stressed that running for political office is simply one path to generating change. 

“At the end of the day, I want to do something, not just be something,” New Jersey District fourteen Assemblyman Daniel R. Benson said.

Benson, former member of Mercer County Board of Chosen Freeholders and Hamilton Township Council, depicted the inception of his political career as knocking on doors and making phone calls.

“You see a campaign you don’t like? Speak up,” Benson said. Benson emphasized that calling citizens on the phone for hours a day is extremely significant, as “you are asking people to make an investment in you.”

“Putting in the time and getting rejected — it’s just part of the business,” Benson said. “It’s getting through it.”

Tennille McCoy, who has worked under four governors, agreed with Benson.

“It’s not something easily done,” McCoy said. “But at the end of the day, I agree with the sentiment.”

McCoy has learned that “it’s really about knowing the opportunity and what you’re able to do.”

If someone asked Milly Silva if she would run for public office a year ago, she would’ve responded with a clear “no.” However, now she says, “never say never.”

Barbara Buono chose Silva as the Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor in the 2013 New Jersey Governor election.

“Each and every one of us has an opportunity to identify that space where we can come together,” Silva said. “You have to feel passionate about something — you can’t fake it.”

After over 20 years of experience building various organizations, Silva has interacted with a wide variety of people who wish to make New Jersey a better place to live.

“You connect with people from where they stand, not where you think they stand,” Silva said. “Whatever you do, take advantage of what you’re going to learn from it.”

Chris James, executive director of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee, suggested that students look into the issues in their area, find what interests them and then reach out to their legislators.

Growing up in politics, James initiated his interests by volunteering, which he suggested students to do the same.

“If you don’t try and are not willing to take a little bit of risk — you won’t get a lot of reward,” said Vin Gopal, chairman of Monmouth County Democrats and co-owner of My Community Publications.

Panels, like this one, offering advice to students interested in politics is a great networking opportunity, Gopal said.

The panel, as a whole, expressed that connecting and interacting with the community is a central step in the process of change.

“At the end of the day we’re all people, and we’re all looking for similar things: access to opportunities, kind treatment by others and a sense of purpose,” said Fogelgaren, who has been involved in several Trenton political campaigns such as that of current Mayor Eric Jackson and Congresswoman-elect Bonnie Watson-Coleman. “I believe community involvement is the key to a better future because it is our best fight against ignorance.”

“I learned that you should start young, regardless of experience or major,” junior marketing major Missy Bove said. “Start young if you want to make a change.”

Many students studying political science who wish to enter the political arena found the panel helpful, according to sophomore international studies major and College Democrats secretary Ambica Avancha.

“Also, the panelists were really cool and inspiring,” she said.

Fogelgaren encouraged students to become involved in the Trenton political community and disregard their preconceived notions of the state capital. According to Fogelgaren, there are numerous organizations that produce good work that are understaffed are in need of help.

“The idea behind the panel is: let’s get college students to hear the voices of passionate young leaders, so that this experience and the information presented can question their beliefs,” Fogelgaren said. “But that’s just the beginning.”

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