Last week, Rebecca Mears ’15 collected more than the 150 signatures required to join the race to be a Rhode Island delegate to the Democratic National Convention, held the week of Sept. 3 in Charlotte, N.C.
There are 16 candidates who completed the required pledge of support to the Democratic Party and collected the signatures necessary to run, said Stephanie DeSilva, executive director of the Rhode Island Democratic Party. The Democratic National Committee allocates 47 delegates to Rhode Island, 11 of whom are elected in the 1st Congressional District, where Mears is running.
Mears’ opponents include Myrth York, a former Rhode Island state senator, and former Providence mayor Joseph Paolino, Jr.
“These are people where everyone in Rhode Island knows their name, and I’m just this young girl out there,” said Mears, who met some of her fellow opponents while gathering signatures at East Side Market.
Mears, who is involved with Brown Democrats and interns with U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., was inspired to get more deeply involved in local politics at the Second Annual Rhode Island Student Political Boot Camp in November. Mears, a California native, opted to register to vote in Rhode Island after meeting local elected officials at the boot camp.
At the boot camp, Edwin Pacheco, chair of the Rhode Island Democratic Party, encouraged attendees to consider running for delegate. Mears decided that running would allow her to participate in the election at a more involved level than in 2008, when she was a minor.
The candidates will participate in a lottery March 7 to determine name placement on the ballots for the April 24 Rhode Island Presidential Preference Primary, DeSilva said. Since in the past, some voters have simply chosen the names that fall first on the list, the placement lottery could affect Mears’ shot, DeSilva said.
Mears’ age may have prevented her from fully engaging in the last election cycle, but it could now work in her favor. The Democratic Party requires a certain number of delegates from different minority groups, DeSilva said, and Mears is one of only two candidates who fall in the “youth bracket” — ages 18-34. The goal for the delegation is three, DeSilva said.
Mears is also one of eight female candidates running for the six spots designated for women. This means that if more than five of the elected delegates are men, the Rhode Island Democratic Party will give those positions to the top female candidates, DeSilva said.
“The Democratic Party definitely focuses more on youth and on youth issues, so it’s important for that to be represented at the party’s biggest event of the year,” said Shawn Patterson ’12, president of the Brown Democrats.
Wendy Schiller, associate professor of political science and public policy, said the push for younger delegates at the convention is a continuation of Obama’s efforts to mobilize the youth vote.
Mears said she believes Obama would fulfill his campaign promises in a second term. While delegates do not have a lot of responsibility, going to the DNC would allow Mears to interact with important party members, she said. Young people need to be involved in politics regardless of their political persuasion, she added.
Now that Mears is on the ballot, she will start campaigning. Because most Brown students are registered in their home states, Mears will rely on votes from the Rhode Island community.
“If I can knock on at least 500 doors, I’ll feel accomplished even if I don’t win,” she said.
“This is really an individual effort,” Mears said. “I stood out at the market all by myself and have to pay (for my campaign) all by myself, but it’s an experience.”