Although civic engagement among those in high school and college is on the rise, it’s still not uncommon to hear young adults say they’ve never voted, or that they simply don’t care about politics. Two Stanislaus State students are working to fight that notion by raising political awareness through not only their own activism, but by serving as two of the youngest state delegates for the Democratic Party.
When Mateo Maldonado and Julissa Ruiz Ramirez aren’t busy with all of the homework that comes with majoring in Political Science, the pair can often be found dedicating their time to causes they believe in, whether it be through their positions with local advocacy groups or thanks to their newer roles as Democratic State Central Committee delegates. Maldonado, 23, was appointed as a county delegate by Congressman Josh Harder’s office in January, while Ruiz Ramirez, 21, was elected as an Assembly District delegate for District 12 that same month.
The two college students are the youngest delegates in the central committee, Maldonado said, which comes with plenty of hurdles.
“As a younger delegate, you have to prove yourself and your capabilities, whether it’s in speaking or organizing or whatever it is,” he said. “People have low expectations and don’t give you enough credit when you tell them your age.”
“It’s challenging because people don’t take you seriously,” Ruiz Ramirez added.
As delegates, it’s their job to remain involved with their party at the local level, helping with fundraising, canvassing and other duties important during an election. Maldonado and Ruiz Ramirez also have a voice at the state and federal level, attending conventions where they vote to elect officers and regional directors for the Democratic Party, as well as decide on endorsements for different elections, positions on ballot propositions and various resolutions for the party.
“To be honest, a lot of it has been a learning process and it still is,” Ruiz Ramirez said. “You can be a delegate and just go to the conventions and that’s it, or you can be a part of certain caucuses and write or co-sponsor different resolutions. It all depends on how involved you want to be.”
As an elected delegate, Ruiz Ramirez was selected by other Democratic voters during an election earlier this year. Assembly District delegates are elected at Assembly District Election Meetings held in January of odd years in each of the state’s 80 Assembly Districts. Ruiz Ramirez is one of 14 who were elected as Assembly District 12 delegates.
Maldonado, on the other hand, was one of five delegates throughout Congressional District 10 appointed by Harder.
Both students said their prior work with nonprofits and advocacy groups was vital in helping them earn spots as delegates, as community involvement plays a major role in helping others know who you are.
Ruiz Ramirez keeps herself busy by promoting rights for immigrants and the indigenous community through involvement with community organizations and groups on the Stanislaus State campus, and Maldonado is a board member of the Modesto Progressive Democrats, works with the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles and is also involved with the Turlock Democratic Club.
“It’s very important to start with your community involvement and make connections,” Ruiz Ramirez said. “That can be a nice segway into learning how these systems work and getting that support.”
Maldonado began as an intern for Harder’s office in 2018, and from there got a job as an organizer for the Democratic Party. His success with registering Stanislaus State students and Turlock residents to vote proved that he was passionate about advocacy, he said, and Harder’s office appointed him to the position of delegate.
Through this involvement, Maldonado hopes that those like Ruiz Ramirez and himself can channel a message of unity to others who may be unsure about the political process.
“I want to be active. I think the party needs to become more of a party that’s for the people again, because it’s become distant in some areas and people aren’t connecting with the party or how it operates,” he said. “I see negativity and doubt as an opportunity to expand other people’s knowledge, get more people involved and be transparent with the community.
“If we help people understand, we can listen and take that information back and make change.”
Recently, Ruiz Ramirez and Maldonado held a fundraiser so that they can travel to Long Beach later this month for the California Democratic Party’s Fall Endorsing Convention. Their youth not only puts them at a disadvantage when it comes to earning the respect of their fellow delegates, but with paying for travel expenses as well. They were able to raise enough money for their lodging and travel, however, and Nov. 15 through 17 will participate in delegate votes, endorse political candidates and even listen to a candidate forum between the Democratic candidates for president. They’ll also see firsthand how different advocacy groups and nonprofits fight for the issues they deem important at state conventions.
Despite the uphill climb that comes with being a young delegate, both Maldonado and Ruiz Ramirez encourage others their age to become involved as well.
“I hope our youth encourages people to have faith and take a chance on themselves in whatever it is they choose to do, whether it’s working to get to those positions or doing well in school so you can have the opportunity to prove yourself later on,” Maldonado said.
“Once other students see that we are delegates, they can see that they can also be delegate. A lot of the times people don't even know that it’s a thing and you can vote for it,” Ruiz Ramirez said. “Then, once they do know those things, they think they aren’t able to become a delegate but they can. You might need a lot of community support to get there, but you can.”
The DSCC currently has open elected seats/delegate positions which will be voted on during the March 3 primary election. Any registered Democrat can run for these positions, and the filing period is still open. Candidates need 20 signatures to run and can run individually or on a slate. Terms for elected DSCC seats are two years, while appointed and Assembly District terms are two years.
For more information, visit www.standems.com.