Shaquan McDowell is a 20 year old Junior at Brandeis University, who is committed to ensuring that this division and downward spiral of our country is halted, through an organization which he heads, known as The Purple Party. We talked with Shaquan to learn how a young person interested in politics viewed the upcoming election.
Can you explain the Purple Party in your own words?
Basically the Purple Party is an independent youth political organization that focuses on getting young people involved in the political spear as much as possible. We do things like go to different schools and talk to them about legislation The importance of learning how to make legislation or just interacting with the local officials so that they can be the change that they want to see in the world instead of having to wait four years until the next presidential election or waiting until they are 24,25, or 26-really like 25 or 40, if you take it serious in the political arena. That is what we really do with the organization. We are nonpartisan. We talk to young people who are Republicans, Democrats- doesn’t matter. We just want to get everyone as much involved as possible.
How did you and your friend go about obtaining a relationship with Westlake High School?
That’s my Alma Mater, where I graduated from high school. When I started it, it was my best friend and I. We were in an AC World History class together,and when we got to world history it was pretty much the same thing over and over again. It was talking about the origin of America, and we sat down and made a list of the way the foundation of America was established. We noticed that the ideas that we were founded upon- even though they never actually achieved those ideas, but the ideas that we were founded upon, our government moves away from all the time. So we looked at that, and we also looked at when America was founded there was a very exclusive group involved. So we set down and actually and tried to truly understand those ideas.
We appreciated the ideas, though the people that established them did not actually practice them. We believed in the ideas, but we wanted to know how we could make sure those ideas were an actual reality but including everyone. Because if we don’t include everyone, those ideas are nothing but fiction. So we sat down and talked to some of our administrates. We talked to some of our teachers;our history teacher was first, and we talked to them about how we could go about getting the school involved with what we were trying to do. They connected us to an higher up, who was our principle at that time, Dr. Greg Rivere. We then began splitting into different groups and going around to different organizations.We were already heads of other organizations, so we started informing our volunteers and young people first.
You mentioned being a distant relative of Thomas Jefferson. Does that have anything to do with your interest in politics?
My interest in politics comes from my mom, she steered me in that direction first. It started with me being steered towards law. My mom said I liked to talk a lot, and I liked to debate. Every since I was younger, so she said, “That would be an interesting career for you”, and I looked into it. The more I looked into, it blossomed into what I really wanted to do. I really love law. The distant connection to Thomas Jefferson didn’t play much of a role in it (laughs). I just thought it was cool, because he is an important figure in American politics I discovered that we are connected. About three or four years ago, while looking over my ancestry. My family descends from a long time free people of color family that occupied the upper South, from Virginia to around to upper South Carolina, and I am from South Carolina. I learned that Thomas Jefferson had a great grandfather named William Randolph, who founded a whole family in Virginia. He is also the grandfather of a Supreme Court justice. He had a granddaughter name Patience Brenson, who had an affair with one of her slaves. A lot of people don’t talk about white slave owners having affairs with their slaves as well, but it happens, and the product was a mixed raised child. That child would go on to be free and be one of my ancestors. It was really interesting to me. It was not what sparked my interest in politics, but it does makes me feel more connected to the founding of America like the doctrine.
In fifth grade I was fortunate to be a part of a group of students who wrote letters to the governor of Georgia about different laws for animal rights. I guess that was my very first time being plugged in. I got to meet with the governor at that time, Sonny Perdue, but my personal large interest started in middle school between the seventh and eighth grade. Again I was taking a Georgia Civics class, it was called the Georgia history class in eighth grade, and it was also the year that President Obama was elected. It made me feel like I could do it, because President Obama was elected. It made it seem more feasible for me to look at someone like me playing a role in a political sector as a black man, and see that it was possible. Before that, everyone else that I had seen in politics was more or less a white man. The 2008 election was a big year for me as a student, and that started a lot of what I wanted to do.
Are you working on any projects you care to share?
The ,major thing I am working on right now is a country tour with a bunch of youth and influential people in politics next year. Basically what it is right now- it’s not named- it’s just something being developed- we are going to different states and talking to young people based on workshops we have developed on 1- What America is and how to include yourself in American history when your history is overlooked and 2 How to make America the change that you want to see when America is constantly ignoring people. Right now I have developed a panel of people and we are setting the dates that we want to visit,and we will get that started next summer.
With the candidates in this upcoming election, many are not planning to vote. No purpose is seen in it, yet others say to not vote means you are not using your voice,yet no candidate seems to speak for us. What are your thoughts on the situation?
That is a totally understandable feeling and a justified feeling. And like you said, when people are trying to get others to vote, the first thing they say is if you don’t vote you lose your voice. The problem with this election, the presidential election, it’s not going to change anything. We can put a president inside the office that everyone agrees with, but it is such a municipal part of the entire operating spear of the political sector, Voting in November especially this presidential election, it’s so crucial because this president whoever it is will basically have the power to ascend into every single branch of government. They will more than likely have more power than the last three presidents we have seen combined. They will likely appoint three Supreme Court Justices just because we are on the brinks of on Because they will be exiting office really soon.
The means that they will be existing office, I am not sure, but it is likely that they will be during the next president’s term, so when we are voting in November, we are not voting for just an individual. We are voting for an executive branch, we are voting our legislative and judicial branch,and that means we are voting because this president will own the power to monopolize our entire structure of America, like they will have the ability to control every single thing to be passed via the legislation, be ruled on via the courts, be executed via the executive branch. Exercising your vote in November is like exercising your right in a way you never have before. Again, voting in November still won’t change everything. It is still important to vote in local election. Atlanta recently had an local election, and the turnout was 2.5% of the voters. 97% of the people did not vote in the election at all, and it is detrimental to the community. Before we even concentrate on the national election, it is more important for us to focus on what is happening in our community directly. There are people in power who don’t represent the community at all, but if we do not vote, they will keep their power, because they will have people to go out and vote for them just to keep other people in the community down. And once we see that, we will see some things changes. It doesn’t change everything, but it will give us some place to go from.
When Shaquan and I had this conversation, I had absolutely no interest in voting, yet I knew that it was something that we should discuss in this issue. While I wanted his insight, I had no idea he would change my mind about the importance of using my voice, particularly where it really mattered, in the local elections. Obviously we need to do better with voting as a community, but we need to be getting out and voting in the smaller elections, so that we can have people in place that represent us and who can voice our concerns and ideas. I for one, will certainly be at the polls tomorrow.
Photography by Zabian Head