Why I Fight: On the Youth Delegate Candidate Purges

Over the last few days I have been asked why I am fighting to reinstate the purged young Obama delegate candidates when a good percentage of the allowed candidates are youth. If the only issue at hand were Arizona’s youth representation goal (though it does not look like it will be reached), such an effort might not be necessary, but the youth representation goal is not the only issue.

Youth leaders were assured by the Obama campaign that young delegate candidates would not be purged barring specific concerns about an individual candidate. With that assurance, youth leaders, myself included, encouraged many of the young activists that had been crucial to Obama garnering 59% of the 18-29 vote to run for delegate. We passed on that assurance to these potential candidates, they filed their candidacy papers, and they looked toward the delegate election with excitement and anticipation. Candidate trainings were held, candidacy groups were formed on social networks, and state committee voters were contacted.

Then two weeks before the election they had been preparing for, a majority of them were told, in a vague and cryptic email, that they in fact would not be allowed the opportunity to run. No specific reasons were conveyed to them about why they could not run, and confusion set in, wondering why those assurances that emboldened them to run had dissipated.

When a campaign makes assurances that are then reneged, they run the risk of causing young activists to be wary of any future pledges or promises that are made. It is important that the very few commitments made to youth are actually kept.

These young candidates put themselves out there to run only to be rejected, not knowing why they were struck while others are allowed to run. If they knew how the campaign made their selections, they could possibly learn what to do differently to improve their chances. Even then, however, young activists may feel unappreciated, or guilty because the campaign does not think they put in enough effort to just have the opportunity to run for delegate. But this is not the most harmful consequence. These activists are smart, and they have started to think about the situation. They realize that with the large number of candidates for delegate the campaign did not look at their name and say “these are the reasons this person should be purged.” They were not choosing who to purge, but who they were going to allow to run. If they were specifically choosing who can run, the people that are allowed to run must be individually known to them. Then it hits them: the people that are accepted are most likely to be personal friends of the decision-makers or political favors. No matter how much effort they put into the campaign, they are not insiders, the establishment, or members of the exclusive club. They never had a chance, especially if they were working in rural areas that prevent them from getting buddy-buddy with those insiders. Next time, they won’t even bother trying.

How can we convince young activists to run for delegate in four years when this happens? Can we assure them that this year they will be allowed to run? Of course not. They know better than to trust that assurance. They have already felt the rejection that comes after getting their hopes up of running for delegate. It won’t be easy to get them take that risk again.

Disclaimer: Although I was one of the candidates that was purged, I am not asking for my personal reinstatement nor will I run if reinstated in order to prevent this effort from being dismissed as being a personal fight for my candidacy.