Justice Now

Solutions in Sight: Social Justice

The Youth Commission

A Conversation with Alexander Jhin
Summer 1997

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.

Alexander JhinThe 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 involved in?

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 making
a documentary on teen crime.

TI: How does a young person get on the Youth Commission?

Alexander: By applying.

TI: Is there a term of office?

Alexander: Mainly one school year. From September to June.

TI: What motivated you to get involved with this group?

Alexander: I started by tagging along with my brother. That's when I was in 7th grade. I'm a senior now.

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?

Skateboard ParkAlexander: 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 skateboard park.

...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 age.

TI: So tell me, Alexander, you've had all this experience, are you going to become a politician, or what?

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 the power?

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 need.

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 carrying
a facade of "Great! Great idea! Keep going!"
with
no action behind it.

 

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