Posted by R. Neal

The Mrs. and I ran into an interesting young man at a political rally here in East Tennessee last fall. I found his attitude and enthusiasm refreshing, and it gave me hope for the future. I thought it would be interesting to find out what he's up to, and he graciously agreed to an e-mail interview.

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Alex Youn hails from Nashville, where he graduated with honors from Nashville Christian School in the spring of 2003. In the fall of 2003 he enrolled at Maryville College, located in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains in Blount County, Tennessee.

Now a junior studying Political Science, Alex serves as the President of the Maryville College Democrats and Executive Vice President of Tennessee Federation of College Democrats. He is also a Resident Assistant and volunteers his time to help inmates get their G.E.D. in the local county jail.

Alex's past political experience includes internships with Congressman Jim Cooper (TN-05) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. During the Presidential Election of 2004, he worked locally in Blount Co., Tenn. to organize voters for both local and national candidates. Alex is currently mobilizing college students on behalf of Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. for his run for U.S. Senate seat being vacated by current Majority Leader Bill Frist.

We asked Alex about his involvement in Red State progressive politics and the attitudes of college students about politics:
Q (R. Neal for Facing South): You gave a great, inspiring speech at the Blount Co. Kerry rally last year. I was impressed with your energy and enthusiasm. Where does your passion for politics come from?

A (Alex Youn): You could say that there has always been something in me to motivate people behind something; whether that be organizing the prom in high school, or trying to get a president elected. Once I find something or someone that I care deeply about, I want to tell others how I feel. From there it is just showing them that we can make a difference in numbers. It may seem bizarre for others, but it just comes natural for me.

Q: After all your hard work in Blount Co. on behalf of the Kerry campaign and local Democratic candidates, how did you feel about the outcome? How did you deal with the disappointment, and what keeps you going?

A: Looking back on that night, I know that I was in complete shock. For a whole day I just watched TV and surfed the internet to see what people were saying across the county. Something that I spent a year on was coming to an end-whether it was how I wanted it or not. Not to mention that it was the first election I was able to work on and vote in.

However, after all was said and done, I could never be more excited for the future of the Party. We were able to put an organization of volunteers in Blount Co. when most thought we couldn't. Democrats were coming out of the wood work when they saw what we were doing. When you have people coming up to you and telling you that you are making a difference in what you are doing, that is something to keep you going right there!

Q: The Democratic party seemed to gain a lot of momentum here in traditionally Republican East Tennessee and particularly Blount Co. leading up to the November election. To what do you attribute that? Do you sense it is still there, and what is the local party leadership doing to maintain it and build on it?

A: Personally, I think that voters were not happy with the way things were going and were starting to see that the Democratic Party is the one that speaks for hard working Americans. The local party here did an excellent job talking about issues rather than putting a spin on the Republican ticket. In today's world I think people can sense the political BS and just want to hear what the candidate is going to do, rather than what their opponent won't do.

The current leadership of both the State and County party is unbelievable. The party is asking serious questions that need to be answered with the direction the current leadership is taking us. I think people are going to be quite surprised when the results for the mid-terms come in and the Democrats have a strong showing.

Q: What are the biggest obstacles facing the Democratic Party and Democratic candidates in the Republican stronghold of East Tennessee? What do you feel are the most important things Democrats must do to get elected here?

A: The past problems that we have had here in East Tennessee are the candidates that run. We are a Blue state despite what people may think. We have a Democratic Governor and State House. The State Senate is controlled by the Republicans, but just by one Senator. The most important thing that we need to be doing is getting good candidates on the ticket who want to change something. Not career politicians.

Q: Are today's college students more politically active and involved than past generations? To what do you attribute the change, if any?

A: College students are politically active and involved now more than ever. It might not be the type of activism you would normally think of, but there is a progressive movement on campuses across the county. Students are starting to stand up and voice their opinions on everything from the hot topic of Iraq, to Global AIDS, to rising text book prices. The main difference is people are getting behind issues rather than political parties

There are, however, students that would rather seclude themselves from what is going on and are viewed as apathetic. So are we active? Yes. More active than past generations? I will let you judge that.

Q: What issues are of the most interest to college students today? What are college student's biggest concerns for the future?

A: I know of a lot of students who are concerned with the economy. Students who are graduating this year are really concerned with what type of job market they will be entering. They have invested their time and money into a college education and still do not know if they will have a job or not. Another hot topic is alternative energy. Some students just don't understand why we don't make the switch to other sources of energy when we can.

Q: What will you be doing over the next year leading up to the 2006 mid-term elections?

A: Currently I am heading up the Maryville College Democrats, along with serving as the Executive Vice President for the Tennessee Federation of College Democrats. Our main goals right now are to get our chapters across the state on the same page and prepare to hit the ground running come fall 2006.

Also, I am working with Harold Ford, Jr. for Tennessee campaign in an effort to mobilize college students, Democrat or Republican, to get behind the Congressman and his run for U.S. Senate.

Q: What are your plans for the future? Will you run for public office some day?

A: The majority of people who I talk to ask me if I plan on running for public office; currently I don't plan on it. After graduation I plan on heading up to Washington, D.C. and working on the Hill while attending George Washington University for my Masters. GWU has a great program in political management, and ultimately I would like to head back here to East Tennessee to manage some local candidates.
Something tells me Alex has his sights set higher than just helping local candidates in East Tennessee, but we'll take all the help we can get. We wish Alex the best in his education and future career in politics, and hope more college kids will follow his lead and get involved.