One week from today the Democratic National Convention will meet to begin the process of officially nominating President Obama for a second term. Hearing from our amazing Democratic leaders (and the President himself) will be exciting and inspiring, especially for young delegates like James Nortey.
Elected from SD 14 at the State Convention in June, Nortey is fired up for the trip to Charlotte, N.C. The 26-year-old Austin attorney and Harvard Law graduate has been active in local Democratic politics since returning to Texas from Boston, volunteering with the TCDP, OFA and the Black Austin Democrats.
Born in Dallas and raised in El Paso, Nortey hails from immigrant parents from Ghana (“They’re all good Democrats!” he says proudly) and graduated from Baylor University. He interned for Attorney General Greg Abbott (don’t hold that against him) and worked for City Council Member Sheryl Cole before becoming a full-fledged associate with Andrews Kurth LLP.
On a recent Saturday morning at the TCDP Campaign Headquarters, Nortey took a break from phone banking to share his excitement the Convention.
QUESTION: You were elected delegate to the DNC at the State Convention after running a pretty active campaign. Why did you want to run for delegate?
NORTEY: I was new to Travis County and went to a Black Austin Democrats meeting. Doris Williams (also elected delegate) was telling everyone that she was going to run, and Glen Maxey and others were encouraging us to run, saying this was a historic opportunity. I’m an adamant Barack Obama supporter, so I thought I would give it a shot. It’s going to be the memory of a lifetime, and I wanted to have it.
QUESTION: How did you craft your campaign?
NORTEY: I started out by creating a Facebook group two months before the State Convention, and I got lots of support. Then I printed up mailers, made phone calls and went door-to-door, working from the list of State Convention delegates in my area (SD 14). I loved that part of it, going to people’s homes, and really enjoyed the interaction. It’s really sad to me that people have lost their ability to get engaged in the process. These are high-stakes issues we’re dealing with in this election, and we need to engage civilly to discuss them. I think people saw my energy and responded, and that meant a lot to me.
QUESTION: What do you hope to learn or experience in Charlotte?
NORTEY: I’m going to do whatever I can to represent Travis County’s progressive values, to help build the Democratic Party’s platform and support the President. It’s going to be important for me to network with Democrats from across the country to learn what worked and what didn’t in their states, so that we can turn Texas blue and shift to progressive values. And I want to learn as much as I can about the political process, so that I can help get people excited — not only to vote but to run for office as well.
Of course, I’m also looking forward to the speeches, too, especially Mayor Julian Castro’s keynote. There are only so many people who can say they have heard Bill Clinton, Joe Biden, Michelle Obama and President Obama. I’ve heard the President before, and it’s like going to a rock concert!
QUESTION: You’ve been active in local Democratic politics since graduating from law school last year. Did President Obama’s ’08 campaign get you started?
NORTEY: I was first-year law school in ’08, and we were told we wouldn’t have time to do anything else but law school. And I was pretty sure Massachusetts would be OK without me. I was not really civically involved before I got back here from Boston. I was a citizen and voted, but you have to be engaged. So when I got here, I thought it was time to help empower people to make a difference.
QUESTION: What is it about the Democratic Party that attracts you?
NORTEY: Historically it serves the interests of those otherwise left out of the conversation. It advocates for women and minorities, for clean air and social justice. My Mom is really a gung ho Democrat, so she had something to do with it.
QUESTION: Do you have any long-range political goals for yourself — like running for office?
NORTEY: Honestly I don’t. I want to be a great family man and a great father some day. I want to be involved in my community and my church (Great Mount Zion Baptist Church), and I want to be a champion for social justice. I don’t think you have to be a politician to do that. My goals are more than achieving a position, so maybe my role will be to encourage others to run and to be a mentor. But you never know. Sometimes those moments just present themselves.