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Sun Gazette: High-School Democrats Getting Geared Up for Campaign Season Print


Created:  Monday, February 20, 2012

An up-and-coming generation of local Democratic activists gathered Feb. 18 to learn practical ways to make a difference in elections at the local, state and national levels.

"The whole Northern Virginia area got together, and we learned a lot," said Jarrod Nagurka, chairman of the teen committee of Virginia Young Democrats and one of the organizers of the first High School Democrats Convention, held at Washington-Lee High School.

Nearly 100 politically active high-school-age students from Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax County and Falls Church participated in five hours of workshops and leadership-building skills.

They also heard from Democratic Party of Virginia chairman Brian Moran, U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-8th) and Dels. Patrick Hope (D-47th) and Alfonso Lopez (D-49th), along with representatives from the campaigns of President Obama and Senate candidate Tim Kaine.

(The event even drew the participation of legislators from Norway, Sweden and other European countries, who were in the Washington area and wanted to see grass-roots activism in action.)

Nagurka, a senior at Washington-Lee and president of the Young Democrats there, said one of the goals of high-school-age Democrats is to find a way to work toward common goals with those of differing viewpoints.

"You're not going to get anything done if you're fighting and you're arguing," he said, noting that the W-L Young Democrats partnered with the school's Young Republicans on a field trip to visit Rep. Moran earlier in the school year.

One of those who takes that message of working for common purposes to heart is Dana Raphael, a junior at Washington-Lee and vice president of Young Democrats there.

Raphael said her eyes were opened when she participated last summer in the Sorensen Institute's High School Leaders Program at the University of Virginia, where the majority of participants were Republicans.

"I hadn't met kids that conservative, ever," said Raphael, the daughter of School Board Chairman Abby Raphael, adding that there was plenty of common ground.

"They have some ideas that are fantastic," Raphael said of the Republican-leaning students she interacted with. "I have a newfound respect for Republicans. I'm not going to change them, but you need the opposing viewpoints."

Not everyone is so eager to cross the aisle, however.

Sienna Lotenberg, vice president of the Young Democrats at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science & Technology, said she factors politics into her personal relationships.

"I can't be friends with social conservatives," the high school sophomore said. "I don't care how nice they are. It's just the way I look at the world."

But Lotenberg does enjoy engaging those of differing viewpoints. She's a participant in the "Political Junkies" club at Thomas Jefferson, which once a week gathers for a robust discussion of issues.

"We're all really nerdy," Lotenberg said. "We yell at each other for 40 minutes on Wednesdays."

Neither Raphael nor Lotenberg will be old enough to vote in the upcoming presidential election, but each plans to support her party in other ways.

"I can't vote, so I'm going to get people to vote," Lotenberg said. "I still have the responsibility to my country to move us in the right direction."

Raphael has taken her activism to Richmond, where she has been working to have the General Assembly overturn the "Kings Dominion Rule" that prohibits many localities, including Arlington, from starting school before Labor Day.