Photo: Ammar Campa-Najjar
Ammar Campa-Najjar is not a typical politician. This 28-year-old San Diego native is running in the Democratic primary to represent California’s 50th district in the House of Representatives. His work for for President Obama’s 2012 campaign, President Obama’s administration, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Department of Labor, and running his own business has helped him to develop the skills and experience necessary to serve as a member of Congress. In the first four months of his candidacy, he raised more money than all other Democratic primary candidates combined, as well as the Republican incumbent, all through grassroots donations. Campa-Najjar recently spoke with YCA and offered some valuable insight regarding his experience as a young person running for office.
Campa-Najjar was largely inspired by President Obama to run for office, not only because of their shared political leanings, but because they had similar experiences early in life as young biracial men (Campa-Najjar is Hispanic and Arab) raised by single mothers. Campa-Najjar noted, “I always wondered if this country would ever accept somebody like me and allow me to achieve my dreams…and in ’08, the country said ‘yes we can’.” He went on to work on President Obama’s 2012 campaign and later in the White House.
There are a lot of young people working in government in D.C., and Campa-Najjar recommended that young people take the skills and knowledge gained from working in our capital and go back home to help their own communities. This is exactly what he has done. After the 2016 election, the dedicated volunteers he knew from his time as an organizer in 2012 encouraged him to come back to San Diego and run for office. He decided to run “to bring that youthful, innovative, creative perspective to Washington.”
Photo: Ammar Campa-Najjar
Campa-Najjar also had some advice for politically active youth. He said, “never underestimate the value of a good education.” If you want to become politically active, it not only starts with education in school, but gaining valuable life experience as well. For example, Campa-Najjar worked in a church for three years, which helped him to develop valuable skills and a sense of community. He also noted that a great experience for young people is interning on Capitol Hill for a member of Congress, but that opportunity is impossible for many students who cannot afford to spend a summer in D.C. without pay. Campa-Najjar plans to pay his interns a fair wage so all young people from his district can intern on the Hill and use what they learned to help their own communities afterwards.
Young people running for office often face unique challenges. “I have had to work so hard to be perceived as equal to the other challengers,” Campa-Najjar said. He advised young people looking to run for office gain practical experience relevant to public service, and work hard to prove they are qualified, capable, and dedicated. He said, “despite your youth, get that experience so that no one can challenge you.” Although being a young candidate can be difficult, Campa-Najjar recommended to “use it as a strength.” He noted, “when you’re young they’re going to underestimate you…let them do that. Because all you can do is surpass expectations, if you’re prepared.”
Thank you to Ammar Campa-Najjar for taking the time to share his story and serving as an amazing example for young people looking to make a difference!
Connect with the Campa-Najjar campaign here!
By Kate Canavan, Editor-in-Chief