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Encouraging Young People to Vote: Interview with Laura Brill

If you’ve spent time reading this blog, you know that I’m interested in voting rights. California recently passed a measure allowing 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections provided they turn 18 before the general election. This is only the latest in a series of legislative initiatives to encourage more young people to vote. To learn more about these and other efforts, I reached out to attorney and activist Laura Brill. Aside from clerking for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and leading a successful career in law, Laura Brill is the founder of The Civics Center, an organization seeking to improve civic engagement among youth. Below is my interview with her. (If you want to see my previous posts on voting rights, you can read my essay here and my interview with expert John Bonifaz here.)

What sparked your interest in improving youth voter engagement? 
In early 2017, I learned that California allows young people to preregister to vote when they are 16.  I was shocked because m…
Recent posts

Kenyan Changemaker and Dancer Moesha Kibibi

When Moesha Kibibi was a young teen growing up in the slums in Kenya, she was kicked out of her Muslim household because her family frowned upon her passion for dance. At first, she lived on the streets and sold groundnuts to support herself. Over time, Kibibi was able to rent a small, 10-by-10 room where she took in and provided shelter to other young girls living on the street. 

Life in the Kenyan Majengo slums was anything but easy for the young women sharing Kibibi’s tiny room. They had to overcome the challenges of poverty, sexual violence, and, in some cases, single parenthood as teens. But Kibibi continued to dance, and it was dance that eventually provided an avenue for a better life. 

As she won dance competitions and rose to fame as a member of one of Kenya’s most popular dance troupes, FBI, she continued to mentor and help other young girls. “I bought them food, clothes, and sanitary towels and even tried contributing to their rent with the little money I had,” said Kibibi. E…

Making Our Votes Count

I was disappointed to learn that the Supreme Court refused to rule on a case that would have stopped or limited gerrymandering for political gain. You can read about that decision here:
I tend to concur with Justice Elena Kagan, who wrote: “Of all times to abandon the Court’s duty to declare the law, this was not the one … The practices challenged in these cases imperil our system of government. Part of the Court’s role in that system is to defend its foundations. None is more important than free and fair elections. With respect but deep sadness, I dissent. “
Below is an essay I wrote a few months ago that puts this issue into a broader context. 



According to 17th century English philosopher John Locke, rulers gain authority only through the consent of the governed. Today, we use electi…

Why Would I Mispronounce My Own Name? Interview with Irma Herrera

I recently had the privilege of watching a one-woman show at San Francisco’s Marsh Theater called “Why Would I Mispronounce My Own Name?”. The author and performer was Irma Herrera, a civil rights attorney, who shared stories of her childhood as a Mexican-American girl in South Texas, anecdotes from her career as a lawyer and activist, and much more. I met with her after the show and she agreed to do an interview for my blog. 

What made you decide to pursue a career in law? How old were you? What had you wanted to be before then?

I think the seed was planted when my mother admonished me with this phrase: “Muchacha eres una abogada sin libros.” She would say this to me because I asked many questions and was always arguing and trying to win others to my point of view. But perhaps the biggest influence was seeing the work being done by African-American civil rights lawyers on behalf of their community. When I looked at the ways that black people were treated in this country, I could can se…

A Board Member's Perspective on San Francisco Public Schools

Rachel Norton is a former journalist who has served on the San Francisco Board of Education since 2009. She served on the SFUSD Community Advisory Committee for Special Education and is also an active member of Parents for Public Schools. I attended San Francisco public schools through 8th grade and was eager to hear her perspective.

What made you decide to first run for school board?

I have two daughters who attended SFUSD schools (both graduated from George Washington HS). I always knew I wanted to send my daughters to public schools and from the time they were in preschool I got involved with Parents for Public Schools and started paying attention to school board politics. 

My older daughter has autism, so from the time she entered Kindergarten I started volunteering with a group of other parents of students with disabilities, to help support parents through the IEP process and to help kids get the services they need. I became aware that so many kids were not getting what they needed,…

Powerful Essay on Racism in Prisons

Last year I interviewed Yukari Iwatani Kane, who taught journalism at San Quentin. Here's a poignant and insightful piece about racism written by Jesse Vasquez, one of her students and the managing editor of the San Quentin 


Modern Day Abolitionist Nancy O'Malley

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley was recently awarded the Modern Day Abolitionist Award from San Francisco Collaborative Against Human Trafficking (SFCAHT). During a recent online video interview, she told me about her involvement in human trafficking, her career, and her advice for young change-makers.
How did you first become interested in fighting human trafficking? When I was a young prosecutor in 1996, I was assigned a case that involved a 12-year old girl who had been sexually assaulted and raped by a 50-year-old man.  She started telling me her story and told me she had a 39-year-old boyfriend who took her out on the streets of Oakland and was selling her eight or 10 times in a night. When the police found her, the 50 year old man who had paid to have sex with her had raped her.  That’s when I realized she was talking about trafficking. We didn’t even have a law in California then. That’s how I first learned about it. I started getting a better understanding after t…