Follow This College Student’s Advice If You Want To Get Involved In Politics

Follow This College Student's Advice If You Want To Get Involved In Politics

(Photo courtesy of Emma Vahey)

At 19, Emma Vahey — one of our #ATVPower9 women for October — has already acted as deputy manager on a winning political campaign, been told she’s “inspiring” by former President Barack Obama, and worked in the office of Connecticut Congressman Jim Himes.

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Yeah. She’s kind of a big deal.

She’s currently majoring in government at Georgetown University, and she’s on the executive board of the College Democrats campus group. When asked if she plans to someday run for office herself, she said she “wouldn’t necessarily rule it out” if it proved to be the best way to support marginalized communities. You can see why we think she’s awesome.

Vahey didn’t achieve all of her amazing accomplishments overnight — she actually got her first taste of politics early, at age 8 (!!). Her mother was running for Fairfield, Connecticut’s Representative Town Meeting (like a town council) along with the mom of another kid in her second-grade class.

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“So the first political experience I [had was] taking it upon myself, as a second grader, to learn what the [Representative Town Meeting] was and why my mom was running for it, in order that I might report back to my class (of note: I raced to do this before my classmate did),” she told ATV.

Vahey describes that experience as the “beginning of [her] life as an educated member of civic society,” inspiring her to learn all about the political process.

(Photo courtesy of Emma Vahey)

More than a decade later, Vahey has succeeded at so many things. It’s not the big, shiny accomplishments she’s most proud of, though — it’s the informed, active woman she’s grown into.

“I am so proud that I’ve knocked on so many doors in my town, called so many folks in my county, and gotten out the vote in places from Philadelphia to Connecticut to Virginia. I am proud that I do real work to affect change — whether it be acting as deputy campaign manager for my mom’s campaigns to help ensure Democrats maintained control of the Connecticut state house, or knocking on doors for Hillary [Clinton]’s campaign in Pennsylvania, or volunteering to basically be a bouncer for photos with Bill Clinton at a fundraiser in my county,” she said.

I am proud that although I’m only 19, I recognize the value of doing real political work and not simply sharing posts on Facebook and Twitter. I try my best to walk the walk.

Vahey credits her mother as her biggest political inspiration. After that first run for local government when Vahey was in grade school, her mom, Cristin McCarthy Vahey, remained involved in municipal politics and eventually went on to become a Connecticut state representative (Emma served as her deputy campaign manager).

“She doesn’t discount anyone or their ideas, and I admire that so much. I try my best to emulate that, but it’s a learning process,” says Vahey of her mom. “She’s [also] revealed to me the importance of local politics within our nation’s political arena as a whole… She helped my town update the intersection near my house to result in fewer car accidents, [and] she worked to increase the number of bicycle paths in Fairfield while partnering with clean energy folks to encourage the solar energy trend in my hometown.”

(Photo courtesy of Emma Vahey)

If you’re feeling inspired by Vahey’s commitment to changing the world (#Vahey2040?) she has some really great advice for how to get involved: “Actively put yourself out there.”

She offers some specific steps: “Contact your local Democratic or Republican town/city committee and ask what opportunities are available for volunteering on campaigns or within the party. If you want to buck the establishment, check out national activist organizations — they’re likely to have chapters or branches near you. A simple Google search will suffice — ‘progressive advocacy groups near me’ and ‘conservative activist groups’ both turn up pages upon pages of results.”

She adds, “You can also connect with any political organizations at your high school or college, and those group leaders will be more than happy to have you join their efforts (I speak from experience!).”

Sounds pretty simple, right? We’ll see you all on the next campaign trail.

Stephanie Hallett
Stephanie Hallett

Stephanie Hallett is deputy editor at AwesomenessTV. She's worked as an editor and writer at HelloGiggles, Ms. magazine, and HuffPost, and she moonlights as a hip-hop dancer and dance instructor. Follow her on Twitter @stephhallett.