Young people and their place in process

The same people who send an 18-year-old to Iraq are concerned about sending a 30-year-old to Washington D.C.

When the United States decides to go to war, young people end up fighting it. When our nation decides to bust its budget and pass on trillions of dollars of debt, young people will end up paying for it. And when our leaders make the decision to trash the planet, young people will end up cleaning it. Young people, in short, have the most at stake in many of the decisions being made at the federal level, yet our participation in the political process remains notoriously low. We must reverse that trend – and exercise our right to vote – or risk that our leaders will continue to give little thought to the effects of their decisions on future generations.

I’m running for Congress in Minnesota’s 3rd District (which includes the western suburbs of Minneapolis) in part to help increase the participation of young people in the political process. It’s true that I’m younger than many who have run for similar office, but I’ve done a lot of living. My parents are Indian immigrants to this country, who arrived over 30 years ago with just $19 in their pockets. Their first purchase was an $11 bottle of champagne, so they actually started with $8. This country was very good to them, and they lived the American dream. We moved across the nation as I was growing up, and came to Minnesota when I was in high school – I went to Osseo Senior High. I then went to the University, where I served as student body president, and worked hard to keep tuition costs low so that education remained affordable to students from all backgrounds. After graduation, I moved to New York for law school. During that time I did legal work for immigrants, battered women, unemployed people seeking benefits and disabled children.

I joined the Marine Corps after law school. After basic training, I spent most of my tour in the Corps in Okinawa, Japan, serving at various times as a military adviser, prosecutor and defense counsel. I deployed to Iraq from September 2005 to March 2006, where I worked with officials from the military, State Department, Justice Department, United Nations, European Union and Iraqi judiciary to build rule of law in Iraq. I left the Marine Corps in July 2006 and returned home to Minnesota where I was working as a lawyer until about three months ago, when the congressman from my home district retired. I decided to run for his seat, and I left my job so that I could campaign for office full-time.

It’s amazing to me how many people who have no problem sending 18- and 19-year-old kids thousands of miles to Iraq to fight – and even die – in the Iraq war are concerned about sending a 30-year-old to Washington to end it and advocate on veterans’ behalf. They are so adjusted to the paradigm that young people have no place in our process that it baffles them when we step forward to contribute to our national discussion. I want to change that paradigm. We are all in this together. The Iraq war, fiscal irresponsibility, global warming, health care unavailability, and the assault on our civil liberties affect all of us – young, elderly and middle-aged alike, and we’ve all got something to add to this conversation.

I’m asking you to help me change the standard belief that young people don’t care enough to get involved, participate and take charge of the political process. Please visit my Web site, www.madiaforcongress.com, to learn more about my candidacy and positions. Block off the evening of Tuesday, Feb. 5 on your calendar and come caucus for me and become a delegate. Together, we can come together to ensure that all of our voices – including young people’s voices – are heard in our national dialogue.

J. Ashwin Madia is a University alumni and is running for Congress. Please send comments to [email protected].