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Summoning Youths to Try Politics

March 12, 2000

Michael Trujillo, a Pierce College student majoring in political science, does more than merely study politics. At 18 a member of the city's Commission on Children, Youth and Their Families and at 19 a candidate for the City Council's 7th District, the now 21-year-old activist recently organized a political action committee for young people. Its goals include reaching out to every high school in the city, registering thousands of 18-year-olds to vote, endorsing candidates and staffing campaigns with young volunteers.

Called YPACLA, the group met for the first time last month in Pacoima. Trujillo spoke with VALLEY VOICES about what he hopes to accomplish.

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MICHAEL TRUJILLO, Mission Hills

YPACLA [for Youth Political Action Committee Los Angeles] exists to engage young people in politics, whether to get them to register to vote or volunteer on a campaign or whatever. It functions like any other political action committee: We will endorse a candidate and write a check, but this is a PAC just for young people.

It's one thing to be heard, but another to be listened to. A lot of candidates like to have youth advisory councils. But with this, we get to have an actual say. This has never been done in Los Angeles, and I've yet to hear of this anywhere else.

We can crisscross parties because we are the sons and daughters of Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals, business owners and union members. It's the type of coalition that every candidate would want backing them.

We can make officials accountable to young people for the things they have promised. We can hold accountable the people guiding our education. We can make sure that they show tangible evidence of their efforts.

The 800 number for school bathrooms is an example. Are they keeping that working? Likewise, nothing is holding back the mayor and City Council from appointing 18-year-olds as commissioners on the library, zoo, rec and parks commissions.

It's through political action that we will get young people engaged, create a role for [them] and give them something to do.

When I was a commissioner, I would walk into a room and I was the only 18- or 19-year-old for two years straight. But if you asked commissioners that I served with, they would say the presence of a young person was one of the most positive things about the group. Twenty-six percent of Los Angeles is under 18. If you count 18 to 21 [year-olds], it goes over 30%. To be that lone city commissioner for 30% of the population--something is wrong.

[City Councilman] Alex Padilla, because of his age [26], as a Gen-Xer, did a lot of organizing in high schools. There was an excitement among young people about having a candidate who grew up in their generation.

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I think Proposition 21, the youth crime initiative, will be an awakening call to young people. That was a horrible proposition and everyone on the PAC voted no. That's one of the things that will be part of our [mission]: pointing out what happens when you don't vote, waking young people up to the political process.

We have seven members on an executive board and we have about 20 to 25 members, basically high-schoolers. Anyone who wants to get involved in politics is old enough to be a member. The right time is when you're mature enough to know, "My park is horrible," and then you decide to get involved in YPACLA. And if I'm 15 and I was able to get my park improved through YPACLA, you bet I'm going to be a voter at 18, and probably for life.

All members of the board of YPACLA--the oldest is 23, the youngest is 17--have fund-raising experience in one aspect or another. No current members have financial resources of their own. But we already have $3,000 pledged to us, with $1,000 in the bank.

[The upper age limit for YPACLA] has not been determined. The oldest member is 23. I don't want to talk about getting old--but probably around 24 or 25.

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Young people are used as a political tool for campaigns. This [YPACLA and its endorsements] hopefully will shatter that. This will say, "This is a candidate for young people," whether it's their track record or life. It can be an 85-year-old candidate or a 22-year-old candidate. We're going to look at their track records.

We definitely will get involved in the L.A. mayor's race. We see that as a huge race, because of the commissions, where a young person could serve. To be elected in L.A., a mayor has to build a broad coalition. YPACLA has that coalition.

For more information about YPACLA, e-mail ypacla@cs.com

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