When Joshua Harris-Till bought his car two years ago, it had 17 miles on it. After a tenure as president of the Young Democrats of Oklahoma and a campaign to earn the same title on the national level, Harris-Till now marvels when he looks at the odometer: 77,000 miles, and climbing.
Harris-Till, 29, was elected July 20 as president of the Young Democrats of America during a convention in Indianapolis. Sworn in without a transition period, He returned to Oklahoma City with a cold, hundreds of text messages and a car in the shop after it took him to nine states while he campaigned for his new national role.
“I drove to every [place I visited] but D.C. during the campaign. The trip to New York City taught me that I’m not supposed to drive everywhere,” Harris-Till said Thursday.
Nursing a cough and trying to catch up on sleep, Harris-Till said the text messages are down to about 100 per day.
“It’s funny because there’s no transition period. You take over, and you start on day one, and you have to take office,” he said. “People have questions. They want to know what planning has been done, and they want to know what the financial strategy is. Now we’re starting to do the work. My team is really great. Everybody is really excited, and the pressure is definitely on.”
‘Oklahoma will now punch above its weight at the DNC’
With the intense 2020 election cycle just getting under way, Harris-Till noted that Young Democrats of America have a simple priority first and foremost: getting Democrats elected. But his organization has a deeper mission, too.
“We are also making sure young people are equipped with the tools, resources they need to run for office, work for elected officials and be involved with the political process,” Harris-Till said.
YDA President Joshua Harris-Till on if he will endorse in the Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential primary:
“There’s no rules that say I’m supposed to (remain neutral). That being said, it’s always a gamble, right? If I choose and choose correctly, it will benefit the organization tremendously. But if I choose incorrectly, then we might not have all of those opportunities available to us.
“It’s something where we will survey the field and see who is working the best for young Dems.”
Recalling his campaign at various state conventions, Harris-Till told how a student he saw in Kansas had a lasting impression on him.
“They just got a Democratic governor and lieutenant governor, and they did a roundtable with just the young Democrats from Kansas. There was a 15-year-old in the room who was asking questions about policy,” Harris-Till said. “It shows that a transition is starting to happen. Young people are starting to get involved.”
As for the longterm nuts and bolts of his presidency, Harris-Till said he wants to take that youth engagement and quantify it in terms of data.
“We talk about young people being involved in politics, but we don’t really track it,” he said. “How many doors did we knock last year? How many phone calls did we make? How many direct political touches did we do? We don’t track that number. I think campaigns would take us more seriously (if we did). Instead of just offering [young people] volunteer roles, they might offer us jobs.”
“Young people made a tremendous difference in our campaign, and Josh was helpful in making sure they not only had a voice but also the opportunity to take a leadership role,” Horn said in a statement. “I look forward to working with him on a national level to tackle the student loan crisis, lower the cost of health care and expand opportunities for working families.
“It’s important Oklahomans have a voice within the national party, and Josh is the type of leader to make sure their voices are heard.”
Another of Oklahoma’s voices within the national Democratic Party concurred. Former Oklahoma Gov. David Walters called Harris-Till his “friend” and recently hosted a fundraiser for his national campaign.
“He will be a great asset for the executive committee of the DNC, on which he serves as a result of his new position,” Walters said. “With my presence on the executive committee, Oklahoma will have two of the approximately 50 positions. With Josh’s help, Oklahoma will now punch above its weight at the DNC.”
Harris-Till served as the legislative assistant for Rep. Mickey Dollens (D-OKC) during the 2018 teacher walkout. Dollens praised Harris-Till’s work ethic.
“I think he is a great person to lead the Young Democrats at the national level,” Dollens said. “He is good at relationships, he can connect with people, and he is a natural leader. I look forward to seeing the positive impact he will make at the national level.”
Harris-Till will have several other Young Democrats of Oklahoma involved in the organization’s operations, including Saché Primeaux-Shaw (chairwoman of the Native Caucus and vice chairwoman of the Black Caucus) and Tasneem Al-Michael (chairman of the College Democrats).
‘Go and fix it yourself’
Harris-Till said he hopes to learn from the past as he moves from state president to national president of the Young Democrats organization. After all, the Young Democrats of Oklahoma also received “chapter of the year” honors at the Indianapolis convention.
During his time in office, Harris-Till helped Oklahoma go from having zero local chapters of Young Democrats to having 24. Facebook followers went from about 2,100 to roughly 10,000, and many Democrats in the Oklahoma Legislature are members of Young Democrats, which is open to people ages 13 to 35.
“A lot of work from young Democrats went into these races,” Harris-Till said of Oklahoma’s young crop of Democratic legislators. “When I brought Gov. Martin O’Malley down for Sen. Allison Ikley-Freeman’s event, she got to put out close to 100 walk packets, she raised a couple grand, she had a room full of people in attendance, and she won by 29 votes.”
He said he “can’t definitively say” the former Maryland governor’s visit to Oklahoma swung the campaign for now-Sen. Allison Ikley-Freeman (D-Tulsa).
“But I can say that events like that in close races are why it’s important for young people to be involved and utilize our resources to try to do things for Oklahoma,” he said. “As the state president, I was always asking for that kind of help and not getting it, and I was like, well, the only way to fix something you don’t like is to go and fix it yourself.
“So I ran for president, and for some reason they elected me. Now I’m going to do my best to provide what I was requesting.”
(Correction: This post was updated at 12:08 p.m. Friday, July 26, 2019, to spell the name of Nathan Posner correctly. NonDoc regrets the error.)