Solutions in Sight:
A Conversation with Alexander
Now 17, Alexander has
worked as a liaison between county government and youth with
the Marin County Youth Commission since he was 12. He's off
to college in September, but has learned a tremendous amount
about the way government does and does not work.
The InSite: What kind of work do you do
with the Youth Commission?
Alexander: It varies from year to year as the
youth choose the direction. My current project is making a
documentary on teen crime. To define the causes of crime in
Marin and find possible solutions. We're going to be talking
to the police, to psychologists, people who work for the
Juvenile Justice Department and to the youth themselves.
Kind of "60 Minutes" format, but dragged out more.
TI: That sounds very cool! And very specialized. What
are the more usual kinds of work the Youth Commission is
Alexander: Even though we are an official
government commission, in the past we have been more of a
youth advocacy group. We do lots of trainings and forums.
Trainings on how to consensus build. Forums for youth to
come together on youth rights.
My current project is
a documentary on teen crime.
TI: How does a young person get on the Youth
Alexander: By applying.
TI: Is there a term of office?
Alexander: Mainly one school year. From September
TI: What motivated you to get involved with this
Alexander: I started by tagging along with my
brother. That's when I was in 7th grade. I'm a senior
TI: How often do you meet?
Alexander: The official meetings are twice a
month. But we also break into committees, like for this
documentary we're working on, we have to figure out our own
time. It ends up being more than that.
TI: So if you were to sum up your five year experience
with county government on this level, what would you say
you've gained from it?
Alexander: I have gained the insight
that a lot of times government cannot do many things. And
that grassroots is definitely the way to go. For example,
The Skateboard Park. We petitioned really hard toward Town
Councils and the Board of Supervisors to get a skateboard
park. They kept saying, "It's a good idea but..." That was
one year's project, so we kind of let it go at that. Later
on... I don't know if you've recently heard, but Novato [a
nearby community in the same county] is building a
...government cannot do many things
...grassroots is definitely the way to go.
TI: Were you guys a part of that happening?
Alexander: Not directly. What happened was someone
else organized a grassroots movement. They got 200 skate
boarders to show up at Novato City Hall and they stormed the
place all carrying skateboards! City Hall was impressed and
they agreed to set aside land for the skateboard park.
TI: Well, who organized those 200 skate boarders?
Alexander: I'm not sure. It's might have been
Marin Skateboard Association who we worked with a bit. It
just might have been spontaneous! Someone at Novato might
have said "Let's get a whole bunch of kids together!" But
that's one things we definitely learned. Going straight to
government is often very difficult especially if you are not
of voting age.
Going straight to
government is...difficult...if you are not of voting
TI: So tell me, Alexander, you've had all this
experience, are you going to become a politician, or
Alexander: I don't think I'd ever be a good
politician. Politicians always seem like they're on your
side. They're always happy. They always seem to be
supporting you. But they often don't follow through,
possibly because they can't.
TI: Do you mean they "can't" because they don't have
Alexander: Right. The Board of Supervisors doesn't
have a lot of power on issues that youth need. For example,
if we went to the Board of Supervisors asking to build a
skate park, all they could do is build one on unincorporated
land. So it would have to have to be out, away from towns.
The Board of
Supervisors doesn't have a lot of power on issues that youth
TI: Where young people couldn't get to it?
Alexander: Exactly! They loved the idea of the
skate park. They loved the suggestions we gave, however,
they couldn't do anything about it. So being a politician
often involves carrying a facade of "Great! Great idea! Keep
going!" with no action behind it.
TI: How frustrating and what a waste of your time!
Alexander: Exactly! And they will rarely ever say,
"We can't do it." or they will say that only
after you've done all the work. So I don't ever think I
could be a politician.
TI: How about a new kind of politician? Someone who
actually says what they mean?
Alexander: Would I be elected, though? [laughing]
...being a politician often involves
a facade of "Great! Great idea! Keep going!"
with no action behind it.
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