Public Service as a Meaningful Path

In this week’s blog, McCarthy Fellow, Harlan Crawford ’24, writes on his 12-week internship at the time at the California Democratic Party. Read Harlan’s reflection about his transformative experiences in Sacramento, and how he’ll take what he learns back to San Francisco. 

When I and my fellow class of 2024 students at the University of San Francisco began our college journeys in the Fall of 2020, there was a mutual sense of fear, disappointment, and angst about how the world around us continued to unfold. Whether it was a one-in-a-lifetime pandemic ravaging countless Americans’ lives, extreme economic inequality only continuing to worsen, or systemic racism highlighted by the tragic death of George Floyd, the world as we knew it couldn’t get a grip on its’ crises. Instead of sitting on the sidelines and allowing these unacceptable realities to persist, I’ve continued to decide to pursue a career in public service as a way of fighting back against these harmful circumstances that too many have grown accustomed to. What highlights this has been my time as a McCarthy fellow over the Summer of 2022, which has enabled me to intern with the California Democratic Party, where I’ve garnered extensive organizing experience with both the June 7th Primary and the Party’s executive board meeting, occurring from Friday, July 8th until Sunday, June 10th.  

Preparing for the June 7th Primary was an especially unique experience for me, as personally, I’ve grown accustomed to working on campaign efforts occurring in general, not primary election seasons. The crucial difference between these two becomes that of attention, where too often, voters are uninformed and thereby forgetful, along with non-committal about participating in primary elections, something that can’t be accepted. This is due to the fact that primary elections give voters the opportunity to vocalize how they want their political parties to represent them and show up for their communities. Voters can also hold their representatives accountable, as if one’s representative continues to act antithetically to the interests of the public, they can be voted out of office and replaced with someone truly accountable to their constituents. This participation problem became abundantly clear to me when assisting with the party’s efforts around this election, as when operating the party’s voter protection hotline in the weeks leading up to the election, potential voters who’d called in were too often frustrated, uninformed, and confused in relation the intricacies and mere existence of this election contest. In the end, these issues would become highlighted by the frighteningly low turnout in the election. While this was a disappointing end to an election cycle I’d spent weeks working tirelessly on, I’m hoping that in the long run, this serves as a wakeup call to me and all who work in public service to understand that in the absence of an informed, motivated electorate in the United States, meaningful progress becomes a nebulous pursuit. The outreach gets conducted around primary races unequivocally needs to change, something my experiences and the end results demonstrates.  

Another experience this Summer worthy of reflection was my participation in the party’s executive board meeting, occurring at the JW Mariott in Downtown Los Angeles. What made this event special was the ability to see countless delegates, committee members, and activists making their cases for how the party ought to operate in terms of its outreach, policy goals, and even bylaws, a rather technical matter that becomes crucial for how the state party operates at committee meetings and events such as this one. In particular, seeing progressive activist Joe Sanberg, an individual I’ve looked up to for quite some time, advocate for the Living Wage Act in front of the resolutions committee, was something I’ll never forget. When I further reflect on this, it brings me great gratitude to know how integral I was to this particular meeting, as I was in charge of making sure speakers stuck to their time limits, along with taking notes on the meeting. Furthermore, I was also privileged enough to witness Representative Karen Bass’ general session speech, where she made her case to the party as to why her campaign for mayor of Los Angeles was preferable to that of longtime businessman Rick Caruso. Just as with the Resolutions Committee meeting, my efforts would be critical here as well, where my role was to introduce speakers and ensure that the session stuck to the schedule that’d been outlined long before. While witnessing prominent figures you’ve seen on television and idolized is incredible, knowing that I played a role in their ability to participate in this Executive Board meeting becomes an even greater feeling. Not only that but seeing how similar they are to those they represent and fight for only furthered my belief that reaching high office and making meaningful differences in society for the citizens of this nation. 

Altogether, my time with the California Democratic Party thanks to my Summer fellowship with the Leo T. McCarthy Center has been nothing short of incredible. Garnering tangible public service experience in a manner that has developed both my professional and technical skills has been something to never take for granted. Also being privileged enough to attend events like the Executive Board where the party formulates its’ strategies and agenda will stick with me for many years to come. Without an experience like this one, I can’t imagine how I’d be able to succeed in my ambitions to make public service a meaningful career route for me. No matter where my public service ambitions take me, I know that this Summer’s experiences will remain foundational. 


Andrew Goodman FoundationCalifornia Democratic PartyMcCarthy Fellows in SacramentoRepresentative Karen Bassstudent votersUSFVotesvoter turnoutYouth Vote

Leo T. McCarthy Center • August 8, 2022

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