BY ZAYDA RIVERA
Want a Career in Politics?
In a 1974 interview, Andrew Young,
the first Black U.S. congressman from
Georgia since the Reconstruction era, said that the
1965 Voting Rights Act is really what “began to give
Blacks access to political power.”
Fast forward to today and you will find what some
are calling the “Obama effect,” a revitalization of young
Black America’s involvement in the political process.
But it goes beyond race or class. President Barack
Obama has inspired a nation of young people to get
involved in the political process—including some who
have never been engaged before.
If you were one of the many inspired by the election
of Obama and are now interested in pursuing a career in
politics, here are a few ways to get your foot in the door:
Experience, experience, experience …
It’s rare to find a career in politics that starts at the
top. Instead, many start at the very bottom, often with
“One of the first things that a young person can do
[to begin a career in politics] is to volunteer their time
in any kind of election campaign,” says Dr. James A.
Thurber, director for the Center for Congressional and
Presidential Studies at American University in Washington, D.C. “Many young people did this in the Obama
campaign. You’ll learn a lot about people, yourself, the
issues of importance and about listening, which is a very
important skill, believe it or not, in politics.”
Starting at the local level and gaining an understanding about what is happening with your local government is a great starting point as well, Thurber says.
“They have internships at the federal level in
Congress, mainly for undergraduates, but even in high
school, people can do this,” Thurber says. “They can
get the experience of involvement in government, in
party politics, campaigns or working for a lobbying firm,
survey-research firm or other kinds of firms.”
Get a college degree
It’s rare to find a successful politician who hasn’t had
some higher-education experience, so knowing the right
courses to take is essential to go along with an internship or volunteer work.
“You don’t have to be a political-science major in college to get involved in a career in politics, but I think it
helps,” Thurber says.
An educator since 1966, Thurber has seen many
students enter careers in politics, with approximately
147 former students who are staff members on Capitol
Hill, four members of Congress and many others in the
White House. Many of his former students also work
for special-interest groups.
“A big problem for young people sometimes is they
want to do the really important work [right away],”
Thurber says. “But timing is important and being willing
to do the grunt work as an intern [while still in school]
gives you the experience to do more complex work.”
Don’t pigeonhole your interests
Think outside the box even if your primary interest lies
in one area, such as alternative energy. Be willing to
learn about other issues to get a better sense of exactly
what you want to do.
“Taste a variety of wells,” Thurber says. “Get experience in a campaign as well as in government because