By Ross Sylvestri
In the last semester of his collegiate career, Christopher Newport University senior Jake Evans is not taking the easy road out. Aside from being a full-time student and working full-time at an accounting firm, he was recently elected as chair of the York-Poquoson Democratic Committee (YPDC), the youngest chair in the committee’s history as well as the youngest one currently in Virginia.
Evans, who grew up in the York-Poquoson area, has been interested in politics since middle school. As a student at Tabb High School, he created a club called Young Americans for Political Activism, whose goal was to increase political activism among students, regardless of political affiliation. One of the activities the club participated in was sending care packages to soldiers in Afghanistan, and Evans said that during his senior year, the group spent almost $2,000 worth of postage doing so.
For Evans, the club helped increase his interest in activism, as he began to take notice of the impact students his age could have on society.
“When I saw how much impact you could have, I just kind of fell in love,” Evans said in a phone interview.
In December 2009, during his sophomore year at CNU, Evans started becoming active in the YPDC. He was attracted to the Democratic Party because he considers it the “party of justice” and the “party of people.” He likes that the Democratic Party is very people-oriented, but adds that he is also drawn to it because Democrats are concerned about the environment, take care of the less fortunate and try to keep the budget in line.
Evans decided to pursue the local committee, rather than participating in an on-campus organization because he saw more adjustments that needed to be made on the local level, and felt there was a lot of potential for him to make a difference from within the local committee.
“I felt that York-Poquoson needed more help than the CNU Young Democrats did,” Evans said. “The organization, usually a local committee is your strong point, that’s where Young Democrats can go to get advice.
Without a strong local committee, it’s always harder for a college committee to get together and orient themselves.”
Once Evans became involved with the YPDC, he started his climb through the ranks. In the summer of 2011, he became the organization’s vice-chair and, at the age of 21 while beginning his senior year of college, was elected as chair in December 2011.
Evans faced an uphill battle for the position of chair toward the end of 2011. It was a match-up reminiscent of the David vs. Goliath challenge. His opponent was a woman who had been a member of the committee for approximately 30 years, a factor that she used against him in an attempt to win the election.
Despite being a member of the committee for a much shorter time, only two years, Evans believed that the members, who are predominantly of an older generation, wanted someone new. He was ultimately victorious against his opponent, who offered a more traditional style of operating within the committee.
“With a committee that is made up of experienced people, they just needed energy, and that’s what I hope to bring,” Evans said.
Dr. Elizabeth Kaufer Busch, assistant professor of American studies at CNU and Evans’ former professor, said that while many young people may fantasize about getting into politics, Evans actually took the initiative to get active.
“He found out where he needed to go and what needed to be done,” Kaufer Busch said in a phone interview.
One of Evans’ friends, Chelsea Feller, who is also a senior at CNU, said that she is impressed by her friend’s accomplishment, but she is not too surprised.
“It doesn’t really surprise me, because his goal is to be the president of the United States,” Feller said in a phone interview, a statement with which Evans agreed.
“I have a philosophy that, if you don’t dream big, you’re undercutting your own potential for greatness,” said Evans.
Evans thinks that young people, regardless of their political affiliation, should get active in the political system, particularly on the local level, from where Evans says the most day-to-day changes originate. However, he believes that many young people may be put off by the idea because they believe it might be too difficult to break into the field.
“I think, as a young person, it’s hard to get involved because we are so dismayed with how things are being run currently, that we look at the older generations and it’s just so hard to get energized,” Evans said. “It’s almost like there’s this big wall that says, ‘Why even bother?’”
Evans added, “Without voices at the table nothing will ever get done.”
He cited a relevant example of the lack of action currently being taken regarding college financial aid, suggesting that, unless students get involved in the issue, the older generations are not going to figure out a solution.
“We have to know that we can actually change things,” Evans said, citing that he believes President Obama is going to be the one to re-energize young people again.
Ultimately, it is Evans’ hope that young people will become more involved in the political scene, no matter their position on the political compass.
“Vote something,” Evans said. “Even if it’s Stephen Colbert.”