As the Youth Radio DNC team made its way up Trade Street tracking the Occupy Charlotte protest, we noticed these two guys on the perimeter who looked kind of familiar. As it turns out, we had actually seen them a few hours before at the convention center. 17 year-old Clifford Martin and 19 year-old Stephan Shellsen are Democratic delegates from Minnesota, but they also sympathize with the Occupy movement — the very same movement that’s protesting the Democratic National Convention.
When we approached them, they were standing on the perimeter of the protest, something that makes sense considering the odd position they were in. When we asked Martin if he felt weird to be at a protest against the very event he was attending he said, “Conceptually yes because it’s like ‘Well, as as a delegate I’m representing the system, the man, the machine.’ And those are largely things I agree with but I came to the convention because I want to understand how it’s designed and what it means to be a part of civic engagement, and [being at the DNC] isn’t the only way of doing that.”
Shellsen’s take? “As a delegate, I want to make a difference. I want to able to change things. But the only way I’m going to be able to do that is if I’m able to see all sides of the issue. And so to able to go to the convention and take the stance that these people have with me is one of the most important things I can do.”
The situation that Shellsen and Martin find themselves in is not uncommon, in fact it’s one that many young people face: knowing that the system is flawed, but feeling the only way to truly fix it is to become part of it. “If I end up deciding that [the convention] is illegitimate,” said Martin, “I’ll actually have a legitimate perspective. For me, becoming a delegate was about ‘I believe these things, and I need to go try be a part of the system to make a difference within that.’”
For Martin the importance of showing up at these protests is exposure to the issues that he won’t hear about in the convention center, “Drone attacks and big banks and corporations running the government. Really big issues that won’t be brought up on the national platform as a result of the logic of the DNC… the big issues that inherently can’t be brought up this time.”
When you put it in that context, it makes perfect sense to see people like Martin and Shellsen walking both the convention floor and the Occupy streets. By experimenting with both forms of civic engagement, they can attempt to change to system for the better. Time will tell if they’re right.