Her grandmother is Indian; grandfather Jamaican. Her father is Italian/Caucasian. No prizes for guessing who she’s supporting in this year’s Presidential elections in the US.
23-year old Meena Harris is part of Generation Obama, a media and technology-savvy group of young people who are changing the dynamics of politics and political campaigning in this country.
A graduate in American Studies and Political Science from Stanford, Meena currently works for an internet startup in the valley. She has also been actively involved in the Obama campaign, starting with GOTV( get out the vote) and voter registration efforts in New Hampshire and other early primary states.
“Before New Hampshire, I had helped out in local campaigns, but this was my first experience with national politics,” says Meena. “ It was exciting to see first hand how the process operates.” She trudged for miles in rural New Hampshire, in the freezing January cold, covering long distances between houses. “It was amazing how many people really wanted to listen to what I had to say. Some would invite me into their homes to talk to them.”
Senator Obama narrowly lost the New Hampshire and Meena came back to work on the California primary.
Meena, who participated in political campaigns on the Stanford campus, was invited by friends to volunteer for the Obama campaign. “It is a pretty close knit community,” she says. “It was easy to get involved.” Did she ever consider working for Senator Clinton’s campaign? “Never,” she says emphatically. Her reasons echo the sentiments of youngsters around the country. “The campaign has become a movement of young people, people who have in the past felt betrayed by the political process. It is also a grassroots campaign, which makes us feel like we are making a real difference. Obama has given young people the opportunity to seize the political process and run with it.That will make a big difference going forward.”
On the eve of the California primary, Meena and her friends went around putting up fliers on college campuses. After they wound up at midnight, most slept in their cars outside the campaign office. The next morning, the campaign staff and volunteers filled up every corner showing support for their candidate and urging passersby and motorists to go vote. “There were high school students with signs made by their parents,” remembers Meena. “They had decided to give up two hours of sleep before their classes to volunteer.”
Senator Obama lost the California primary as well. Wasn’t it demoralizing? “Not at all,” says the optimistic Meena. “These are just minor speed bumps. It makes the ultimate goal all the more rewarding. We did win our district.”
For the Presidential election, Meena is the go-to person in Silicon Valley for small fundraisers held by individuals. She provides support in the form of information and advice. “I make sure donations are received properly, that people know what they are supposed to do and how they should do it.”
California does not appear to be a battleground state this time around and in a way Meena’s job reflects the state’s role in the campaign. “Fundraisers are how California contributes to the campaign.”
Meena has met Senator Obama a few times. “He is personable and charming, remembers people’s names and looks like he is listening intently.” In other words, a good politician! “One key problem he has is that people don’t know enough about him. The Indian community should see that because of his experiences, he has a global perspective. Between now and November, he will reach out to the minority groups so they can learn more.”
I mention that the polls reflect a closer race than one would have thought. “I don’t trust polls,” says Meena. “The primaries have shown that record turnouts are possible. Many of my friends are in traditionally red states, working to turn them blue. We are doing so much better that democratic nominees usually do in these Republican states.” She has yet to meet anyone of her generation who is involved with the McCain campaign.
Meena Harris is cheerful, energetic, optimistic and hard-working. If she is a representative of Generation O, all one can say to Senator McCain is “You better watch out, you better not cry…..”