Nadya Okamoto is 19, a college freshman, and a candidate for Cambridge City Council.
Yes, that’s right. City Council.
“I decided to run about a month ago after I just kind of came to the realization that the only reason I wasn’t running is because I thought I was too young,” she said in a phone interview.
Okamoto runs a nonprofit – well, several — but one in particular that advocates for people her age to get involved in the political process. It’s called Millennials in Action, and she said one of her two biggest talking points has been to “vote and run for office.”
Realizing that age was keeping her from doing the very thing she’d been advocating for was “a big wake-up call for me,” she said. So a few weeks ago the Harvard College student filed paperwork to run as a Democrat, opening her campaign account with a $100 loan from herself, according to state records.
Her campaign, which is mostly run by fellow 19-year-olds, will focus on such issues as education equity, youth engagement, housing and development, and workers rights and civil liberties, she said. Most of these are issues she has been impacted by in her short life.
Okamoto was born in New York City but moved to Portland, Ore., after her parents divorced. She attended a prestigious private school on scholarship, but her family was essentially homeless, couch surfing during her freshman and sophomore years of high school, she said.
“We still struggle with having housing and stuff,” she said.
It was during this time that Okamoto said she was inspired to start her first nonprofit, PERIOD, which provides feminine hygiene products to women in need. Okamoto said she would leave a world of privilege at school and return to a community where women were using things like paper bags to mange their periods.
But it was during this school year at Harvard that she was inspired to become politically active, as she and friends watched election results roll in. The group started the hashtag #ElectionReaction, and within two days 400 students from around the country responded, according to Millennials in Action’s website. The “nonpartisan media platform” says it encourages young people to share political ideas and complaints as long as they propose solutions too.
“Yes, it’s completely daunting to run, but I just feel so called to do this,” she said. “Instead of saying what can you do 20 years from now, say what can you do now.”