Lexington, Massachusetts is known as the birthplace of America. We Lexingtonians take great pride in this moniker. We see ourselves as progressives who live in a truly democratic society.
And this is reflected in our government: A 189-person legislative body known as the Town Meeting, a five-person executive Board of Selectmen, and a handful of committees. All of our leadership is 100 percent volunteer, which allows it to truly govern by the will of the people.
In recent years, as our town has grown, its demographics have shifted — but its leadership hasn’t. A 2013 report discovered that while the Asian population has increased drastically, the make-up of the town’s governing body did not reflect the changing demographics.
As a young Indian American interested in local politics, I wanted to change that. And with the help and leadership of some friends, we did.
In 2013, I became a Town Meeting Member. Of the 189 individuals there were only a handful of Americans of Asian descent in the body. Members of the Indian-American and Chinese-American communities had often discussed how to inspire their communities to give back to the town and participate in local politics. But few had done so.
In March 2014, I embarked on my second campaign to be elected to the Board of Selectman, the smaller, and more powerful, governing body in town. During the campaign, the youthful energy of my team was able to tap into voters who traditionally paid no attention to town elections. While I lost, many of the Asian Americans who volunteered were filled with a new sense of purpose. They realized how important it was to participate in our Town’s governance, just like the rest of the general population, to make sure our voices were heard.
Narain Bhatia, the first Indian American to ever join the Town Meeting, and an influential member of our community, convened an inaugural committee to search for viable Indian American candidates in late the summer of 2014. Board of Selectman Chairman Joe Pato, Narain, small group of Indian Americans, and myself curious to learn more, attended the first meeting. We came up with one goal: To have nine Indian Americans run in the March 2015 election and have all nine win. One member per precinct.
Over the next few months we met with many members in the community, shared campaign stories, best practices, and strategies. On March 2, 2015 we made history by electing six Indian Americans to the Town Meeting (including Narain and myself). This was historic not only for Lexington, but for the United States, as we are the first town to have elected so many Indian Americans. And while we did not reach our initial goal, we made a powerful first step toward engaging a new community in Lexington.
There were many things at play in making this election cycle happen. Among them, and the one I think was most catalytic in engaging my community, was that a young, energetic, and passionate person ran for office.
As young people, we have the charisma, passion, and idealism to shake the foundation of any system, no matter how big or small. We can act as torchbearers to trek forward on any number of fronts. That’s why I’m working with LaunchProgress Political Action Committee (PAC), an organization that supports young, bold progressives from diverse backgrounds for state and local office. Like LaunchProgress, I believe young people have an opportunity to take leadership into our own hands. And we must, because when we do, the impact we can make on our communities is vast. We can show bravery and break boundaries that our elders cannot. Our inexperience is our strength — we do not know what cannot be done, and by doing so we inspire action in others.
Lexington is a historic town that I am proud to call my home, but history is ready to be made at any time and any place. Opportunities are limitless. Our generation has what it takes to create the America that the world deserves, and we’ll do it our own way.