Alex De Ocampo never wanted to be involved in politics.
He thought he would work in the entertainment industry after he graduated from CSUN, but when the 25-year-old communication studies alumnus was dared by his friend in 2002 to revive the CSUN chapter of the Young Democrats of America, his unexpected political career began.
“After the 2000 elections, one of my Republican friends would taunt us,” De Ocampo said. “He said that he bet we could never organize on campus. I took the dare and made it a positive.”
Five years later, De Ocampo is running for the national presidency of the Y.D.A. If he wins, he will be the first Asian American to ever hold that office, as well as the first Californian to be president in at least 40 years.
“At times I feel pressure because I am Asian American, but I feel like we’re the Democratic party and we should look beyond that,” De Ocampo said.
The Y.D.A. is one of the largest youth political organizations in the nation. It was created to serve Democrats ages 14 to 36.
Elections will be held in Sacramento in August at the Y.D.A. national convention. There, the state chapter delegation will vote on who they want for president. De Ocampo knows of at least one opponent he will be running against. The election process is much like running to be president of the United States, but on a smaller scale.
“It may be more like a municipal election than anything,” De Ocampo said.
The only requirements to run for the national presidency are that the candidate be a Democrat and fall between the ages of 14 and 36, though De Ocampo said experience is vital.
“I feel the organization needs to go to the next level,” De Ocampo said. “I have built a coalition of different people who are backing me. I feel I will be victorious in August.”
Until that time, De Ocampo must travel to the Y.D.A. state chapter conventions and meet activists, explain his platform, solicit support and pass out literature. He just returned from Jackson, Miss., and will be leaving for Chicago later in the week. Traveling to these state conventions is important, because it gives delegates the chance to get to know De Ocampo. It also encourages delegates to attend the national convention, since delegates have to be present to cast votes.
Because he has a full time job as a political consultant in the entertainment industry, De Ocampo must do a lot of weekend and night travel.
“I’m getting used to living out of my suitcase,” he said.
But these trips are not free.
De Ocampo had to raise funds to be able to go on these trips. With time he has built a supportive donor base that helps sustain his cause.
His decision to run for national office did not suddenly surface in one day. He worked his way up to this point, De Ocampo said.
From childhood, De Ocampo felt he was an activist, because he grew up poor.
“As a political activist, you are there to push the ideologies of a certain movement to allow them to have a voice in the community,” he said. “It has always been inside me.”
His friend’s dare, along with a documentary he had to do on the homeless for an urban studies class, are what pushed De Ocampo into politics.
The CSUN chapter of YDA died in the 1980s. De Ocampo helped revive it and served as president for two years. He is happy to see that the chapter is still going strong five years later.
“I definitely got involved because of CSUN activism,” De Ocampo said. “When I started at CSUN, people said it would be impossible, but if it’s something you believe in, you can and should give yourself the opportunity to make it happen.”
During his senior year, he was elected president of the California College Democrats. He then went on to be the California YDA president, which he stepped down from after his two and a half year reign so he could focus on the upcoming election.
De Ocampo said he definitely feels student activism has increased on campus.
“There is always room for improvement, but (in) the 2004 elections students were on the ground fighting for what they believed in,” he said. “I want to stress the idea of empowering individuals to be activists in their community. The time is now.”
If De Ocampo wins, he will have the option of relocating to Washington, D.C., where the national headquarters is located. There, he can decide if he wants to have a paid staff to work with him or have volunteers. He would hold office for two years.
He hopes to be able to offer state chapters resources they have been requesting, such as training on how to build their chapters and candidate leadership training.
De Ocampo is not sure what his future plans are, or if he will try to run for office in the future.
“I have no big intentions of running for office, but if the opportunity comes, then maybe,” De Ocampo said. “I want to remain an activist.”