It’s never too early, or too late

Below is the transcript of a recent interview with Chris Schwartz, Black Hawk County Supervisor & community organizer for Iowa Americans for Democratic Action. Schwartz is an inspiration to myself and many others when it comes to community organizing to fight for social justice and equity for all.

Q: When did your interest in politics/public service begin?

A: In 6th grade when I 11 years old in Dubuque, Iowa. The city was terrorized by a series of cross burnings over the summer into that fall. One of them took place block away from my parent’s home. My teacher was a Franciscan nun and social justice activist and she organized a peace vigil afterward. My mother took me and my siblings down to participate. At that event my social justice flame was lit within me.

Q: How did you become involved in government and advocacy?

A: I’ve always been interested in the work but was nominally involved. I attended UNI originally as a music education major and thought I was going to teach music the rest of my life. I volunteered a little on the Al Gore campaign. I thought that was a bad election and meant to me that we need to get different types of people involved in government.

I started an ACLU chapter at UNI in the fall of 2001. The day before our first meeting happened to be 9/11. This helped set our agenda for defending civil liberties. The drums of war started beating and I got involved in the Campus Anti-War Network that had 59 chapters across the country. Locally it was known as Students for Social Justice.

“We’re not doing rocket science.”

Q: What’s important for young people, specifically current students, to know about civic engagement?

A: There’s no such thing as waiting for your turn. Every social movement that’s been successful in history has been fueled by the energy and leadership of young people. Don’t waste time second guessing yourself. You’ve got a voice in this fight and your time is now. Really, you don’t just have the option but you have the requirement to be involved at the earliest stage possible. So much of today’s world depends on having new and open ways of thinking — this has always come with young generations. Our young generation is much more open minded than those that govern us today.

Q: Why do you think students being involved in government is beneficial?

A: Decisions being made now are going to impact the younger generations the most. It makes absolute sense and is critical to our future that young people are involved in making those decisions whether that is holding office ourself or holding officials accountable.

Q: What are some avenues you instruct young people to take if they’re interested in becoming more involved?

A: I always say to look for established organizations in the community. I’ve been an ADA organizer for 11 years and help train young people with advocacy skills. You don’t have to start from scratch, but if you can’t find anything, go ahead and start something. You don’t have to wait for anyone else. You have every right. We’re not doing rocket science.