Student Spotlight: Victor Shi
Mikva Challenge student Victor Shi, 17, a Senior at Stevenson High School, has secured a place on the March 17 Illinois Primary ballot as one of four potential Biden delegates from the 10th Congressional District for the Democratic National Committee.
From Victor –
The beginning of 2020 marks a year that will be filled with opportunity and growth. The arrival of 2020 also means the Democrat and Republican primary elections are just months away. Between the start of the new year and the Iowa caucuses, presidential candidates from both parties will attend rallies and town halls, debate key policy issues, and vigorously campaign in a push to attract as many supporters as possible.
Luckily, with campaigns maximizing outreach efforts, it also presents the ideal opportunity for youth to get involved in the political process. Whether it’s knocking on doors for Republican presidential candidate Joe Walsh or making phone calls for Democrat presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar, the voices of high school and college students are essential. After all, policies enacted by Congress and the next president will directly affect the generation of rising youth—ultimately making it imperative for youth to be civically engaged.
In my political involvement with Congressman Brad Schneider in the 10th Congressional District, I learned that both the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates are not officially chosen until their respective national conventions in the summer. A nominee must win a majority of their party’s delegates at these conventions, and many of these delegates are recognized elected officials and esteemed party leaders. But after attending an Illinois Democratic Party information session in September, I learned that many convention delegates are simply energetic supporters without fancy titles—and even some teenagers. I also learned that in Illinois these delegates must first be “slated” (chosen) by presidential campaigns to have their names appear on the March 17 Presidential Primary Election ballot.
When I learned about the requirements and that I could be eligible to become a delegate even as a 17-year-old, I immediately knew I wanted to start this process because of my interest in making a difference in 2020. I decided to get involved by working to become a Democratic convention delegate for Vice President Joe Biden.
From the information session, I knew the difficulty of becoming a delegate for a presidential candidate. It starts with making contact with your preferred campaign and demonstrating a strong interest in supporting that candidate. Just to qualify as a prospective delegate, I gathered petition signatures for Joe Biden for President and met with Biden campaign officials from Illinois to talk about how my values and aspirations aligned with Vice President Joe Biden’s vision for America. Weeks later, in December, I received the incredible news from Sheila Nix, who is the Illinois State Chair for Biden’s campaign, that the campaign had approved me as one of five Biden delegates in the
10th Congressional District.
I was ecstatic because, for me, it affirmed that the Biden campaign was acknowledging the voice of the youth and the energy and vision we can bring to politics in this country. But I knew their decision also came with a commitment to work to support the campaign and a need for my team of delegates to secure at least 500 signatures on petitions to get our names officially listed on the March 17 Primary Election ballot as Biden delegates.
To help with my part of this commitment, I operated within the Suffrage at 17 laws in the State of Illinois. Before Governor Pat Quinn signed the first Suffrage at 17 law in 2013, I wouldn’t have even been eligible to have voted this March since I don’t turn 18 until May. But the first Suffrage at 17 law made it possible for me (and thousands of other 17-year-olds in Illinois) to vote in March since we are eligible to vote in the General Election on November 3, 2020. In 2016, the General Assembly passed an additional change to this law which allowed 17-year-old registered voters to sign and distribute nominating petitions for possible candidates.
Knowing the law was on my side, I recruited some classmates at Stevenson High School to help me collect signatures of students, family members, and neighbors who are registered to vote in March. We also used the skills learned from Mikva Challenge canvassing events to eventually gather more than 200 signatures of 10th District voters in the December weather at train stations, door-to-door in our neighborhoods, outside grocery stores, and even in school and at the mall.
Days after presidential campaigns in Illinois officially filed delegate petitions, the Illinois State Board of Elections now has my name officially listed on the ballot, with the Illinois primary being just two months away. My new responsibilities include continuing to interact with voters across the 10th District in an effort to campaign for Joe Biden and his other delegates. If 10th District Democratic voters select Biden over the other choices, I will be able to attend the 2020 Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee as an official party delegate and proudly cast a nominating vote from the convention floor.
While the process of becoming a delegate has been time-consuming and work intense during my Senior year of high school, I have learned to be a more effective advocate for Vice President Biden and the Democratic Party. The process has
definitely helped me improve my skills of listening, speaking, and most importantly, resilience.
With only weeks until the official nomination contests begin, I can’t predict the results, but I can personally testify to the value of the youth voice in the political arena. And I urge all youth across the United States to get involved in the political process—regardless of whether you are a delegate or simply encouraging your friends to vote. It is crucial the country realizes that youth have a voice and that our voices deserve to be part of that national conversation in 2020.
Victor Shi, Class of 2020, is a Mikva Challenge student and President of the Political Action Club at Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire