Woman Crush Wednesday: Harshini Abbaraju

Meet Harshini, the 2016 High School Democrat of the Year and former Senate Page

By Julia Coccaro & Saira Salyani

The Progressive Teen Editor-in-Chief & Features Editor

BORN AND RAISED NEAR CENTRAL IOWA, HARSHINI ABBARAJU has been an outspoken, ardent activist for the entirety of her high school career. Her interest in politics and current events blossomed as she participated in mock trial, debate, and speech competitions. Currently studying at Mauldin High School in Greenville County, SC, Harshini has made incredible progress in empowering youth in the political scene within her state and has become an icon within the High School Democrats of America.

Previously a United States Senate Page, Harshini had the opportunity to meet and interact with many influential lawmakers in the Senate, including her sponsor, former Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid. “Working in the Senate as a Page was a transformational experience. One of the most special moments I can remember was when now-retired Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) talked with me for almost ten minutes before stepping on to the Senate floor to cast the last vote of her monumental congressional career,” she stated. “I think it was on the Water Resources Development Act.” During her tenure, she met Obama, Biden, and Pence. “I, personally, was not at the inauguration, but fellow Pages attended. Overall, being in the Senate during this historic election and transition period made me much more appreciative of the Senate Democrats — they are fighters. They are truly my heroes. They are resilient, compassionate, and patriotic.”

Harshini developed a keen interest in politics and government at an early age. “I have been continually inspired by President Obama since I first attended a precinct caucus for the Democratic Presidential primary in Johnston, Iowa, as a seven-year-old. Over the years, I felt compelled to act and to defend the values I was taught and have accepted as guiding principles on how to treat others in both word and deed,” she said. “I’m opposed to the idyllic narrative that politics should never impact personal relationships — while it’s good to have friendships with those who don’t see eye-to-eye on everything, quite a few people form very strong bonds through taking action on issues affecting their communities, which is a beautiful thing. That has certainly been the case for me, particularly as a member and former national staffer in the High School Democrats of America.”

Moreover, Harshini cites her own inspiration as two of her favorite current leaders, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (WA-7) and Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) — both newly-elected members in the 115th Congress and the first Indian-American women to serve in their respective chambers. “Beyond the deep significance of their cultural and ethnic identity that I share, it is important to me that they are two of the most outspoken members on issues impacting immigrant communities, and all folks who stand to suffer from some of the harmful policies being introduced as of late,” she stated. “In fact, the first piece of legislation introduced by both of them was the Access to Counsel Act, which sought to ensure legal counsel for those detained as a result of the first Muslim ban executive order issued by the President. Not only do Rep. Jayapal and Sen. Harris espouse an unapologetically progressive and inclusive politics, but they are already putting those values into action as they help lead the congressional resistance to the executive branch. They are paving the way and creating a space for a generation of young, South Asian women to take on more active roles in politics.”

Presently, Harshini devotes the majority of her time toward the High School Democrats of America (HSDA) and Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “I have kept in touch with some of the phenomenal staffers I met while in D.C., and I ultimately hope to connect my experience as a Page with my involvement in High School Dems.” When asked about her future plans, she’s not sure if she wants to run for office — but she has her eye set on becoming a civil rights lawyer on Capitol Hill.

Harshini’s unfaltering dedication to the aforementioned issues and organizations serves as inspiration for youth across the nation, and there’s no doubt that she will become one of the most prominent future female leaders in America.

Follow us on Twitter at @hsdems and like us on Facebook. Send tips, questions and applications to jcoccaro@hsdems.org. The opinions expressed in TPT pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of High School Democrats of America.