In our series Our Movement Monday, we talk with Texas Democrats across our state about their work and the challenges facing their communities.
A dual-citizen (ֹ ????), Odus Evbagharu has been a Houston-native since he was 10 years-old, growing up in the suburb of Cypress. Always politically aware, thanks to his dad, Odus was really enamored with politics in 2008 when a big-eared, half-Kenyan man who looked like him, spoke about change and hope and ever since, he’s been hooked. He now serves as the Communications Director for the Harris County Democratic Party, the third largest county in the country! He recently just finished his undergrad at the University of Houston (Go Coogs!) and is hoping to continue his education there by pursuing his Master’s in Public Policy. He’s a sports fanatic and political junkie. And many are convinced his future is in politics, just ask the Harris County Democratic Party!
Thank you for taking your time to chat with us today, Odus! You’re the Communications Director for the Harris County Democratic Party — thank you for fighting the good fight! What inspired you to first get involved with your local county party?
Odus Evbagharu: I knew change had to come from within. All I could think of is Tip O’Neill’s famous “all politics is local” quote and knew the most effective change would come from being engaged locally. I had done enough rebelling and protesting, which I still do, but I knew in order to be the change I seek, it had to come from the inside. I couldn’t be an “outsider” looking in anymore, I needed to be a part of the process. I needed the party structure to start listening to voices like mine so we could really enact change for the better. Too many lives and voices have been forgotten and I wanted to remind those who have been involved in the political process for a while, they have lost sight on what’s really important: making lives better for the marginalized and disenfranchised!
You’re one of the youngest Democrats working for your party. How do you think county parties and state parties can increase young Texans representation in politics?
Odus Evbagharu: I chuckle at this question a little bit because I get asked this all the time but I think it’s very simple, state and county parties need to do a better job of building relationships with young people. My generation is built on relational values rather than positional ones. We want to know where you come from, what do we have in common, what are our differences not just what you did for the past 30 years and how your “years of experience” lends you to tell us what to do. That “experience” talk turns a lot of young people off and away because a lot of us live in the now and not the past or the “good ole days.” The party needs to take us seriously by investing in us and not dismissing us. Find resources to pay a couple of interns, encourage them to run for public office, don’t discriminate against them because of age or lack of the experienced resume and most importantly don’t just hear us but listen to what we have to say. See what the college and high school democratic clubs in the area are doing and get them activated by the local party and young Democrats group. Give them a seat at the table. We need to make the network as big as possible and the only way we do this is by building strong relationships with one another.
How do you think county parties and state parties can increase involvement with young people of color?
Odus Evbagharu: County and state parties must start meeting us where we’re at. They must start hiring, electing, placing and most importantly empowering more people of color in prominent places especially when we speak of representation. Barack Obama inspired me simply because he looked like me. He let me know, no matter what your name looks like or where you come from, a black man has a chance to make it. Our party has must do better with addressing this issue. Young people who look like me are more inclined to get involved when they know people who look like them are given the opportunity to be successful. It’s about building trust. For example, we can’t continually keep building the success of our party on the votes and backs of black women but not place them in prominent roles of importance. Black women are the most consistent voting block for the Democratic Party and they should be reaping the benefits of this but they don’t. This discourages a lot of the involvement we could get from young people of color because there is nothing in it for them. Investments work both ways and all we’re seeing is profits for one and not the other.
We often hear complaints about certain actions being geared towards a younger generation or a much older generation. How do you think we can build intergenerational movements to bridge the gap between the young and old?
Odus Evbagharu: It all goes back to building relationships. Once we do that, we can bridge the gap we have. There’s a lot of similarities in these movements too! Criminal justice reform is the Civil rights of our time. The feminist movement sweeping the nation currently goes back to the landmark case of Roe v. Wade with just more components added to it. So, it’s not like there is this huge disconnect, we just need to find common ground and relate to each other better. It’s a process and we must be patient. When you live in a world where we want everything now and instant, it’s hard to be patient especially with building relationships because it takes time. I think this is where generations have had this small disconnect widen over the years. The older generation can do a better a job of understanding where we are coming from and allowing for new ideas to flourish instead of being stuck in tradition but we can do a better job of paying reverence to those who have paved the way for us to be successful. I know my success is predicated on me standing on some pretty big shoulders of those who came before me. Younger people can do a better job of paying attention to history and understanding where this comes from. It’s good for us to question intentions but we must question with understanding and a willingness to learn and not fight.
What do you think is the best alternative methods (marches, sit-ins…) to formal political participation that young people have utilized to bring about change and be heard?
Odus Evbagharu: We have definitely utilized social media to the best of its ability. It’s so easy to coalesce on social media especially when you plan early enough. It’s so easy to say go vote in a tweet or Facebook post. It’s simple to make a YouTube video and vlog about injustice and discrimination happening everywhere. Your thoughts don’t have to be edited and go through a formal news outlet, you can blog on free sites and spread it through social media platforms which, for the most part, are free. It’s easy to reach your x amount of followers to meet up somewhere and form a demonstration of some sort. Look at the movements that have been going on via social media, whether it be the #MeToo movement or #TimesUp campaign, these hashtags have definitely galvanized a whole generation to speak up on things that are wrong. Marches are still doing its thing though. Look at the recent walkouts happening in schools to combat those lawmakers who want nothing to do with comprehensive gun reform. So it’s a little bit of both but the effective use of social media is definitely the biggest difference you see in how we effectively galvanize as a generation.
What do you think is the biggest struggle for young people in this political climate?
Odus Evbagharu: The biggest struggle for young people in this political climate is being listened to and taken seriously. Those older than us always look at us and sarcastically ask, “what do we know? These guys haven’t lived life. They don’t know how it was back in the day.” It’s frustrating to just be dismissed so easily. We need people to hear the struggles of today. We are fighting a criminal justice system that is severely broken, an administration that doesn’t believe science is real and is willing to see our planet destroyed, DACA recipients on the verge of being kicked out of their homes to a foreign place they don’t know because of fear, and an economy that is dangerously headed to another fallout like 2007-2008 because lawmakers refuse to hold big corporations accountable for scamming the middle class. These are just a few issues my generation continually talks about but it seems to not be taken seriously. And don’t get me started about how healthcare is a basic human right but this administration thinks otherwise. What’s funny is, most of the issues we are dealing with today are similar to the struggles of yesterday. Young people need to be listened to and taken seriously or you will continue to see the lack luster numbers in youth participation and no one wants to see that. We need my peers activated and engaged, caring about our future.
If there was one tip you would give to a sitting elected official, with regard to why they should be listening to and engaging with young people, what would it be?
Odus Evbagharu: To listen and engage with young people. Look, I know many of the older generation thinks we’re lazy and don’t listen and yes, that can be true at times, but not most of the time. We care just as much, if not more, because we know it’s our future on the line and at stake. We care! We are a lot smarter than what we get credit for. We are a generation that likes to work smarter and not harder and like to think outside the box and not in it and that’s okay. We need to break tradition and forge our own path and I would tell elected officials don’t be afraid of that, in fact, I would go as far as to say it will take you further in the long run especially in building relationships and understanding where we are coming from. It’s all about perspective. Don’t be afraid to surround yourself with young people who have a fresh, creative and different approach to what you are thinking and what you are used to doing. I would also tell elected officials don’t be afraid to lay a foundation for younger people, be a mentor, and pass the baton to those who you trust and you know will adapt to the times as it passes. Remember electeds, pass the baton is they key in all of this.
There are a lot of different movements happening right now. Which movement has struck a chord with you?
Odus Evbagharu: There’s two that I am severely passionate about and that’s criminal justice reform and education. We must make our justice system better especially for those who are marginalized and disenfranchised. Too many young people are going to jail for things that simply need rehabilitation. You should not be going to jail because you don’t have the means to pay your tickets. Cannabis should not be a jailable offense. Studies have shown us over and over again how alcohol has more of a dangerous effect on the brain than cannabis does and we don’t jail those for recreational drinking. It’s ridiculous we still have people in jail for carrying a little pot on them. I live in Houston where our District Attorney, Kim Ogg has been a leader in rehabilitation and making sure having pot on you isn’t a stain on your record where you can’t be employable. We also desperately need help with education. I live in Houston where our recent local school board meeting was totally a disaster and made national news for being a complete mess. We need comprehensive education reform. We have Republican state legislators who quite frankly don’t believe in investing funds and resources into brown and black kids because they believe their futures are bleak. This is a shame and these kids deserve better. Teachers deserve better. We need to pay them more for the amount of work they put in and give them the supplies and tools for them to be successful so the kids they are teaching can be successful. We need to hire (vote) Mike Collier as Lieutenant Governor to lead these charges in changing our education system and elect progressive state representatives and senators to help Mike govern the way Texas should be govern. Once we fix our education system and have a better justice system, I believe our economic system will flourish and we can start giving the advantage back to the little guy who is playing catch up.
Do you have any tips on how people should be keeping up with the growing number of movements and why that’s important?
Odus Evbagharu: Yes, you should read, watch and listen to everything. Form your own educated opinions and do your homework. Don’t just stop at the sexy sound bite because it sounds appealing. Go and understand why that was said and what the true meaning of what he or she is trying to say. Understand why these movements are happening and open up your hearts and minds because people are trying to speak to you on issues that matter to them. It’s important to be aware of your surroundings and what is going on in your neighborhood, county, city, state, and country. Be on social media and see how fake news is really distorting the truth and bringing more division in an already divisive and polarized world. Be on social media to see the movements that are sweeping the nation and bringing to light things that have been kept in the dark for so long. These movements matter because people matter and fighting to make a life better is what we should be living for. It’s as simple as that for me.
If there’s any piece of advice you could give to young activists and professionals, what would it be?
Odus Evbagharu: Don’t wait, be the change you seek. Our time is now! We cannot continually wait anymore to have our future dictated by those who won’t be in power for much longer. We have the opportunity to do something phenomenal and we should take advantage of it. We can make healthcare a right, we can guarantee quality public education for all especially for those growing up, we can finally have an economy working for you and me and we can stand firm on the frontlines of social justice by advocating for black lives matter, the LGBTQIA+ community, making sure the feminist movement is alive and well, ensuring DACA is the law of the land, having our planet well taken care of so multiple generations can live on it and so much more. Don’t give up because we have a long list of things to get accomplished, young people. It’s our time. It starts with us!