Alan Khazei is the founder of City Year, a yearlong service program for young people in cities across the country. He worked with President Bill Clinton to establish the AmeriCorps civil service program. He is endorsed by former UN Ambassador Susan Rice, Newton City Councilor Holly Ryan and Sunrise Movement’s Saya Ameli Hajebi.
What should high school students know about your platform?
I spent my life trying to engage people in our democracy to discover their own power, efficacy and voice. My particular focus has been on young people. I don’t believe that you’re the leaders of tomorrow; I know that you are leading today. And honestly, I can’t wait until your generation is in charge.
I started City Year when I was 25 years old, not much older than you now. I was seven years out of high school. And it’s been young people who’ve been leading the service movement. Your generation believing in LGBTQ+ rights, you’re way ahead. You understand that we have to be inclusive and welcoming of people regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation. Your generation is leading right now on issues of race — this extraordinary uprising led by young people, these protests are amazing. They’re beautiful. They are multiracial coalitions. As President Obama said last week, in the ‘60s, it was largely African Americans that were leading the civil rights movement. The response to this horrific shooting, killing of George Floyd with a knee to his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds has been young people at the forefront. And I think that’s the fundamental challenge facing our country right now: we have to deal with 400 years of systemic racism.
How has your campaign been impacted by the coronavirus? What challenges and opportunities have you encountered?
I believe in grassroots politics. As I mentioned, I love working with young people. We had a whole plan to go door knocking on every door in the district. We’ve had to shelve that, so we’re doing phone calls, and we’re doing other outreach.
We are in unprecedented historical times right now with three major challenges all converging, which will also open the possibility for transformational, big, bold ideas that we haven’t seen since the New Deal. So that’s the healthcare crisis of the coronavirus, it’s the economic crisis that was caused because we had the stay-at-home orders, and now the race crisis.
If I have the honor of being elected to represent the people of our district. I’m going to be ready with big, bold ideas. So for example, national service: I’ve been working on this my whole life since I started City Year. We were the model for AmeriCorps. There are now 75,000 AmeriCorps members; I think there should be 500,000.
I’m a product of the American dream. My father was an immigrant from Iran. My grandfather came from Italy, my great grandfather was a coal miner. But we’ve lost the American Dream effectively in this country; there hasn’t been any upward mobility for 40 years, meaning that kids are not having a chance to succeed their parents. We also have this massive income inequality. So my idea is this: when a child’s born, $15,000 are put into a children’s savings account. … By the time that young person turns 19, That $15,000 is $50,000 just based on average standard returns in the past 20 years. But to get it you have to do one year of national service, and you can use it for the American Dream, so you can use it to pay for college.
You’re a candidate with lots of experience with political campaigning, but not necessarily with holding a political office. What did you learn from your 2010 and 2012 Senate races? And why do you feel that your platform will now appeal to voters in 2020?
While I don’t have experience in political office, I do have tremendous experience as a change maker who’s actually got legislation through. I believe that the way you make change is this: I think you build coalitions, you build grassroots movements and then you put the pressure on to get the legislative and administrative executive branch to follow.
I worked very closely with Senator Kennedy for 20 years, with President Clinton, President Obama and with Republicans in a bipartisan way to get three major pieces of federal legislation passed. I’m the only candidate to have actually done that, including the officeholders in the race. No one else has actually built coalitions to get legislation through Congress as a citizen.
What I learned from my previous campaigns is that people are smart. I learned that it’s an incredible privilege to run for office. That is what I’m missing the most right now — we’re doing it through phone calls and through Zoom — but that people open up to you. You hear people’s life stories because people are in trouble, especially now.
I learned there’s too much money in politics. I was one of the very first congressional candidates in the country that wouldn’t take any corporate political action committee or lobbyist money. I’m still not doing that. That has now become a progressive litmus test, which I’m proud of.
But most of all, I learned that people really care. Voters are intelligent; they’re very thoughtful.
To learn more about Alan Khazei, visit https://alankhazei.com/.