With the race to the White House underway, 29-year-old Quincy Surasmith is among those in his generation whose years of community organizing has made him politically aware since his time at UC Santa Cruz from 2004 to 2008.
While in college, Surasmith joined a theater group for people of color and was part of a movement to have ethnic studies, and more recently worked at Asian Americans Advancing Justice in Los Angeles. He is currently one of the organizers for Tuesday Night Project, which is a space for artists and activists to communicate. Even though Surasmith never got involved with an "explicit" political organization while in college, he has voted as a Democrat since 2004, and will vote Democrat again for Sen. Sanders when the primaries come to California, a choice that is partly influenced by his socioeconomic background.
"As I grew up I came to appreciate having social services and that sort of safety net," said Surasmith, "There were times in college when I didn't have guaranteed housing and I remember being really worried because I didn't know what to do because my family wasn't able to help me in that sense."
A Politically Exciting Election Year
Surasmith is excited to vote for Sanders because he agrees with most of his proposed policies. He likes universal healthcare because sometimes his parents' jobs did not provide healthcare when he was a child. Even though it would take years to accomplish, Surasmith also favors free public higher education because it would allow people more opportunities in an economy where job-seekers need a degree. Surasmith also agrees with Sanders' plans to pose more regulation to big companies.
Surasmith contended that Hillary Clinton is a strong candidate because she has done "just about every major position" in government and is experienced in playing Washington's political game. Some people, according to Surasmith, will vote for Clinton over Sanders because they predict she would be more effective. Surasmith, however, prefers to vote for a person whose policies more closely align with his political views.
One of the biggest aspects of Clinton's political stance that turn off Surasmith is her more moderate stance on issues like healthcare. Even though he understands that making little gains on an issue is good for getting some policies through, he believes that it's better to aim high in policies so that most points won't be lost under compromise, "you can't hope to make little gains on something where the other side is just going to drag it down as far as possible."
Surasmith also differs from Clinton on foreign policy; while she has stronger foreign policy experience than Sanders, Surasmith doesn't agree with having as much military presence in other countries. Third, her ties to the sphere of big finance are off-putting to Surasmith; she was tied to the DLC who wanted to have the support of finance companies. It makes it difficult for her to deflect criticisms about conflict of interest when she says that she can deregulate, too.
The whole election is exciting to Surasmith, who said, "It's really really fascinating on both sides just because we're having such a huge spectrum still and it's still early in the year, we don't see sort of who's going to be the inevitable front-runner in either party."
On the Democratic side, Surasmith found it fascinating that an independent who wasn't even a Democrat already had the party split between him and Clinton, while not too long ago Clinton was expected to win the Democratic nomination with little effort. On the Republican side, Surasmith noted that Donald Trump dominated political conversation and media, and that other candidates like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio were doing well in the election, whereas candidates who were predicted to have strong campaigns, like Jeb Bush, were not even polling in the middle.
Taking Control Of The Issues
But when it comes to addressing so-called millennials and communities that are associated with young people today, Surasmith said that it's dangerous to paint groups in very broad strokes, especially when using the term "millennial" to mean any young person as opposed to what it meant in its original sociological context.
"It's a very diverse base," Surasmith said, and from this diverse base there are different communities such as #BlackLivesMatter trying to get their needs addressed, "[We] are now at an age and agency level where people can communicate and organize to get viewpoints at least out there," he said.
It is no longer a time, Surasmith believes, where a candidate or campaign determines what the big issues are. Grassroots movements are making it so that candidates are forced to address their needs. For example, Sanders' interactions with Black Lives Matter led him to add a racial justice component to his campaign. But when dealing with people who don't like being patronized, Surasmith believes that candidates should think carefully:
"Any candidate that really wants to capture this generation's support [given that it's diverse], they need to be able to engage with them on things they find most important and in the terms and contexts they find most important," he said.
Reach contributor Heidi Carreon here.