When I tell my friends and coworkers that I can’t go to dinner with them due to the monthly neighborhood association meeting, a puzzled look is often followed with the existential question: “Why?”
Sometimes I say it’s for business, other times I just say, “You wouldn’t understand.” In those meetings I get the occasional odd glance and the question, “What City department do you work for?” At 25 years old, I have come to embrace the title of “the youngest in the room” in business and politics.
But in reality, it is a passion that has been inside me since I took my first politics class in college. Soon after, I found myself reading legislative bills for fun, and I was hooked. But as fate would have it, my first foray into local political-esque affairs came to pass by total accident.
Upset with the process that led to Uber and Lyft leaving town, I quickly fired off a terse email to District 10 staff, satisfied with the ability to vent more than expecting a response.
Sure enough, my diatribe was met with a response from Councilman Mike Gallagher’s (D10) Chief of Staff Paul Jimenez.
“We can see how passionate you are, how about you come into the office and we can chat about how we came to our decision,” he responded.
After venting to the staff, they asked me if I was interested in serving on a committee or board within the city. They said they knew just the place: the CPS Energy Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC).
Not entirely sure what I was getting myself into, I said sure and went about my day. Months later, I learned that this is a common tactic, putting those who complain on boards.
My first CPS Citizens Advisory Committee meeting was a prime example of me being the youngest in the room by quite a bit. In fact, I was the youngest ever appointed to the CAC, a moniker I wasn’t sure I should embrace or shun.
After almost a year on the committee, I can say it has been one of the most enjoyable experiences of my young career. While some of my friends still ask if I can help them lower their utility bill – I can’t – the response from the district has been incredible.
Whether it is a neighborhood watch or neighborhood association meeting, my representation of District 10 within CPS always comes up, and instead of just being the youngest in the room, I find myself helping neighbors navigate complex solar panel rules, teaching them about insulating their garage, and what the optimal temperature for their home is.
My ability to represent the issues of District 10 to CPS and witnessing the positive changes being made has encouraged me to examine other ways in which I can bring more representation to the neighborhoods I love.
And it is with great pride that I can say today that I will be representing District 10 in the upcoming bond discussions on the facilities committee. With $850 million in play, it is crucial that District 10, and every City Council district, has representation willing to push for the issues most important to our district.
I realize that I most likely will be one of the youngest in the room again. In fact, I hope I am. What was once a stigma I hoped to dismiss is now a driving factor in everything I do. When talking to friends now, I hope to use my example to encourage my peers to get involved in local politics and policy issues, regardless of party affiliation.
As this city transitions from being a tourist destination to a tech and business hub, two things are increasingly important. First, the bond must pass. The sheer investment in infrastructure and necessary upgrades to keep this vibrant city in lock-step with our competition cannot be stressed enough. We like to think we are the city of tomorrow and now it is time to act like it.
Furthermore, we need to encourage a youth movement in local politics. This city is getting younger by the day, as evidenced by what seems like a new study every week, and more young people are moving to San Antonio.
Why should we have more people my age in local affairs? Simple: If we want to attract youth to the city, it is high time we reflect that in our local government. My generation, Millennials, is one of the most politically connected generations in recent memory, yet has a poor participation record.
Young people, if you don’t like the way things are run, it’s time to become a part of the solution.
In District 10, starting this fall, we are going to convene a Young Leaders group to encourage more participation from the younger people in the area. Once a month we will get together and discuss how we can address issues that are important to us in District 10, and how we can encourage our peer group to be more involved. The Young Leaders will look to place members on boards and commissions, with the hope that we cement the area as a positive force for youth in matters of public policy.
And that doesn’t mean everyone under 30 needs to run for City Council or to be a Bexar County Commissioner. We all don’t have that kind of free time or desire. However, those who would like to implement change in the city we all love should look to join their neighborhood association or a City board. Being involved on that level allows you to have a voice, and to give voices to all of your peers, as we hope to grow this city into its full potential.
That is why I do it – to give back to San Antonio, a place that means so much to me. I want to see this city succeed beyond all of our wildest imaginations. The people of San Antonio deserve it.
Top image: A passenger looks out a window of a streetcar. Photo by Scott Ball.