Paula Amezola de Herrera on the CADEM Convention

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This past weekend of November 17, I attended the State Democratic Party Endorsing Convention in Sacramento as elected delegate Shannon Theus’s proxy.  I had planned to go without my husband or son, but a week before the convention, the call went out for two other last-minute proxies and my husband and son agreed to step up as proxies and accompany me. 

We arrived in Sacramento to find rallies on Friday and Saturday calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and rallies on Saturday where participants chanted “Jesus is King.” The active democratic process was pretty lively in the daily protests outside the convention center in the streets of Sacramento.

Within the convention center, there was a shared commitment among attendees to address the challenges of free political expression and asserting our democratic values. There were so many dedicated activists in a small space, even if they didn’t all agree on their purpose—everyone was purposeful. We attended events where human rights issues, worker’s rights, environmental activism, reparations, tenants and housing issues, reproductive rights, LGTBQ+ rights, and minority representation were discussed.

Growing up, I had parents who were unable to vote, who weren’t familiar with the specifics of democratic process in the U.S. Yet, they communicated to me that voting as a U.S. citizen was my birthright—an important privilege earned by my parents’ sacrifices, a result of their hard work to ensure a better life for their four daughters in the U.S. Now, witnessing my own children transition into voting adulthood, I impress upon them to never take this right for granted and to stay actively engaged in the political process. 

Given this background, I was delighted to share this experience with my 24-year-old son and see his reactions and hear his questions as he got a closer look at the intricacies of the democratic process within the State Democratic Party. My son has one parent who is on the local school board and the other who is an officer of a Democratic Club. We don’t force political engagement so it was a proud moment for us to witness his genuine curiosity and engagement this weekend.

Like many people his age, he did not expect to find a diverse array of perspectives within the Democratic Party or even to find people who reflected his own views and his concerns.  He was surprised to find that this was not entirely the case. Moreover, after being exposed to the campaigns for four U.S. Senate candidates and engaging in thoughtful deliberation with Forward55 delegates, he became an enthusiastic Barbara Lee supporter. For my son, support for Barbara Lee quickly emerged as the most fitting response to the pressing issues of our time. 

As a mother, a first-generation immigrant, and as a school board president, the question of how to engage the next generation in the political process is so important. It’s disheartening to observe the impediments to involvement of young individuals—the tendency of party elders to dismiss the very issues that will impact the youth the most. These concerns, including global warming, the setback of the Vote16 initiative in Culver City, the financial challenges associated with attending conventions, the outdated processes, and the insufficient information and education about avenues for youth engagement, compound the frustration. It feels like every election in the past few years has become the most important election of our lives. Why aren’t our students taught civics in a more engaging manner, enabling them to actively participate and feel empowered to change the world?

Speaker after speaker at the convention paid lip service to the perils of autocracy, fascism, and the potential demise of the democratic process in America. However, rather than initiating a constructive dialogue with the predominantly youthful peaceful protesters, party leadership canceled Saturday’s evening events.

Now, more than ever, it is imperative to guide the next generation towards understanding the significance of democratic values. By actively participating in the democratic process, we empower not only the youth but every individual. Although our government is not perfect, our collective participation becomes the catalyst for change towards a more perfect union. Through our engagement, we can elect representatives who truly mirror our values, fostering a sense of empowerment and a government that aligns with the ideals we hold dear.