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News + PoliticsLeaders under 30: SF Youth Commissioner Jayden Tanaka on valuing diverse young...

Leaders under 30: SF Youth Commissioner Jayden Tanaka on valuing diverse young voices

A high school student talks about the role of young people in the political process -- and why we need more affordable housing.

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Editor’s note: 48hills is doing a series of interviews featuring political activists who represent the Bay Area’s future. You can find more profiles here.

48HILLS: Introduce yourself, give us your age and how you would like to be referred to in the article. 

JAYDEN TANAKA: My name is Jayden Tanaka, I am 16, I use he/him pronouns and I currently attend George Washington High School in the Richmond District. 

48HILLS: Tell me a bit about your personal journey into San Francisco politics. 

JAYDEN TANAKA: My earliest exposure to anything political came in the form of campaigning in local elections with my family, which provided me with an introduction to local government and community engagement. Even having participated in various campaigns throughout my life, I can’t say that I was particularly ardent about politics until fairly recently. 

Like a lot of other people, the advent of various social justice movements and calls for radical change to the status quo definitely played a role in pushing me further onto a path of self-education and striving to learn more about the systems of oppression that operate in my community. The exposure to deeper political discourse surrounding so many topics was a great learning experience for me, and I found myself consuming a lot more political literature and political content, and diving deeper into the political rabbit hole.

Through my time campaigning for various political candidates, I got in touch with people like Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer, who introduced me to the idea of applying to the San Francisco Youth Commission, a city commission dedicated to advocating for and advising on the needs and interests of youth. I was initially hesitant, but I decided it would be a good way for me to become more politically literate and a better advocate.

Through continued interaction with Fewer and her office, I was eventually chosen to represent District 1 on the Youth Commission, which has since been a great way for me to learn more about how city government operates, public policy, budget advocacy, and community involvement. Of course, I have so much more to learn and I am looking forward to wherever I go next on my journey.

48HILLS: In your experience, why is political engagement so important? What motivates you to do the work that you do?

JAYDEN TANAKA: To me, political engagement is so important because of its role in ensuring a diverse range of people have their voices heard in important discussions and debates in the political world. Promoting political engagement and civic participation to the ordinary person increases the likelihood that people from all backgrounds have a say in the democratic process and that their needs are accounted for.  

As for what motivates me, I’d definitely say I’m most motivated by the observable flaws and the sometimes exclusionary nature of our government and wanting to uplift the voices of people who are typically unheard in political discussions. Being a part of the Youth Commission, hearing the opinions of a diverse range of young people, and being able to advise city officials on the needs of these youth has been a great way to spotlight and uplift the needs of a group who are too often left out and fall through the cracks of our governmental operations.

48HILLS: What does your perspective as a young person bring to the political table?

JAYDEN TANAKA: As a young person in a political landscape that isn’t always the most responsive to youth opinions, it can be discouraging and often feel like your voice isn’t valued. However, I think that youth perspectives are vital in politics because of the sheer diversity of the experiences that we can speak to and the often-undervalued input we can provide on so many issues.  We have seen the impact that youth working as a collective can have on our political landscape, with climate advocacy and gun control movements being just a few of them. I think that undervaluing youth perspectives is not only ignoring a large, diverse and intelligent demographic that has so much to say, but also ignoring the future of our governments. 

48HILLS: What’s the most urgent social political issue facing us today?

JAYDEN TANAKA: I’d say the most pressing issue facing my community is housing. The lack of affordable housing throughout San Francisco and California in general has been an issue for years now, and it has had disparate impacts on the most marginalized groups in our population, especially BIPOC and seniors. With little affordable housing being built, rising housing prices and gentrification have continued to push out people and their families. Coupled with the rise in homelessness statewide, it’s evident that more needs to be done to guarantee affordable and supportive housing is being built and that people take precedence over pricey housing developments.

48HILLS:What actions can readers take to help?

You can help by urging your local officials to pass protective and productive housing bills, supporting community housing advocacy organizations, and advocating for affordable housing to be built across more neighborhoods. Your voice is so important in ensuring that San Francisco is made a more affordable and equitable place so voicing your opinion can go a long way.

48HILLS: What gives you hope? 

Something that gives me hope is the power of community and our strength as a collective. Time and time again, we see just how strong communities can be when we work toward a common goal. For example, the successes in this past election and through various social justice movements have really given me hope for the future that incentivizing our strength as communities will lead to some real change, and lead us to turn toward each other and our communities in the fight for change. 

48HILLS: Do you have a favorite book, movie, podcast or TV show to recommend on politics? 

One of my favorite podcasts to listen to recently is Revolutionary Left Radio. It provides great insight into a range of radical political topics and the history of left-wing movements. I’d really recommend it to anyone who is looking to learn about more radical reaches of politics and how they’ve affected our political sphere today.

Revolutionary Left Radio can be found at https://revolutionaryleftradio.libsyn.com

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