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40th Anniversary of the 26th Youth Activist Feature: Erum Jilani

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July 1, 2011 marks the 40th anniversary of the ratification of the 26th Amendment to the Constitution, lowering the voting age from 21 to 18. Democrats are marking that occasion by shining a spotlight on young activists dedicated to improving the lives of Americans and bridging cultural divides.

Erum Jilani is a Harvard graduate student and intern at Democratic National Committee’s political department. A first generation American, Erum uses her cultural competency, language skills, and education to connect with people of all backgrounds. As the daughter of Pakistani immigrants, Erum speaks fluent Urdu and Hindi, and believes in drawing on the cultural lessons her parents imparted:

America should tap into the resource of our immigrant population—pushing a paradigm change.

Erum went on to use her international experience at the Department of Homeland Security, advising the agency on the Middle East, South Asia, and domestic and international terrorism research. Erum first began her government service under a Republican majority, but she grew frustrated with the lack of knowledge of south Asia and Islam.

The election of Barack Obama ushered in a new outlook to the Muslim community that Erum found refreshing. She came to appreciate the openness to diplomacy as a value rooted in Democrats’ ideals. The unique perspective and global outlook of President Obama inspires Erum’s work at the DNC and her continued studies in International policy at Harvard University.

Erum took a moment to reflect on 40 years of the youth vote:

The youth vote brings passion and more energy to both parties—we tend to be progressive and that helps when advocating for issues around gay rights and abortion rights.  Increased youth activism has led to more NGOs focused on social issues. And more youth are interested in foreign policy. Growing up in social media and globalization has made the world a smaller place for us.

Erum plans to continue working to bring more south Asian and Muslim Americans into the political process, and to do her part to register as many young voters as she can at the upcoming OFA-DNC day of action on July 16.