From MCPS to the White House

Feb. 16, 2024, 1:29 p.m. | By Alexander Liu | 5 months ago

Ashwani Jain recounts his journey in politics as one of MCPS’ former students

Ashwani Jain Photo courtesy of Jain For Congress.

While most Blazers are probably familiar with Jamie Raskin, the representative for Maryland’s 8th district, an intense competition is brewing for the neighboring 6th district. Ashwani Jain, a self-described “34-year-old son of immigrants” and “product of Maryland Public Schools” is now stepping up to compete in the race himself. Jain’s unique journey has brought him from the halls of Churchill high school in MCPS to working at the White House and beyond. 

For most of his time in MCPS, Jain wasn’t involved in politics in large part due to the lack of figures in politics that he could relate and look up to. “Growing up, politics was not something that people who look like us or have different experiences get into. I had no political connections or experience prior to me being a senior in high school,” Jain says. 

It was Barack Obama’s presidential campaign that first inspired Jain to venture into politics—when he saw another person of color running for a position of high office. Moreover, Obama’s attention to issues like health care spoke to Jain, who as a cancer survivor, was intimately familiar with the American healthcare system. “I saw a guy that looked more like me than anyone else. And he was speaking about issues, like healthcare, in a way that resonated with me,” Jain says. 

After seeing Obama’s first campaign in 2008, Jain made up his mind his senior year of high school. Without any background in politics, Jain walked into Obama’s campaign office to volunteer. He served as a volunteer leader for Winston Churchill High School, where he helped student volunteers organize to support Obama's campaign efforts. “I just showed up one day to a campaign office and hey, I don't know anything about what's going on, but I believe in the candidate,” Jain says. 

Later, while Jain was studying for his undergraduate degree at the University of Maryland, he became the student director for the state of Maryland. There, he represented and advocated for every high school and college student in Maryland, his first big chance to share his voice. During Obama’s second term, Jain secured a position in his administration, working at various departments of the federal government, ranging from diversifying the political appointees in the federal government to working on the Affordable Care Act as part of the Department of Health and Human Services. 

Now, with years of experience at the White House and Organizing for America, Jain has returned to Maryland to run as a candidate in the race for Maryland’s 6th district representative. As Jain explains, he was dissatisfied with the lack of timely action taken by those in power, and saw an opportunity to make desired change happen himself. “I was frustrated, I was done with it. I knew I had the experience. I knew I knew how to organize. I know my district. And I knew the solutions that we needed,” Jain says. 

A large part of Jain’s campaign is focused on representation, especially on voices that aren’t usually heard in political discussions. “Maryland is one of the most diverse states in the nation,” Jain says. “Growing up in a diverse background, which includes multiple different perspectives, in addition to my own, I think that's super important.” 

If elected, Jain would be the first Asian and first Millennial member of the House elected in the state of Maryland. As Jain points out, this would be a step towards gaining more representation for Asians and young voters in Maryland’s 6th district, who make up 12 percent of the population and the biggest potential voting block in the state respectively. Moreover, Jain is intimately familiar with the power of representation. After all, he was motivated to get into politics thanks to Obama’s run all those years ago. “Representation matters. And if you don't see yourself reflected in different positions of power, especially when they are making decisions about your life, you're not going to feel as empowered [and] you’re not going to feel as invested.” 

Indeed, as one of the youngest candidates in his race, Jain emphasizes the significance of young voices in politics. His own experiences reflected the experience of being ignored due to his age. “[My motivation to run] stems from my frustration of being a young person, being a person of color, who has ideas, who wants to get involved, but [is] always disrespected by leaders,” he says. 

Young people have the largest potential to change large elections, especially in the upcoming 2024 presidential election. Record numbers in 2020 helped to shift the election in Joe Biden’s favor, and their vote will be crucial in determining the outcome of the 2024 election. “Whenever young people stand up and vote or get involved in other ways, progress is made on a lot of issues,” Jain says. 

Unfortunately, young people (aged 18-29) have by far the lowest voter turnout of any age group, with only 43.4 percent of young people voting in 2016, compared to 71.4 percent of those aged over 60. This trend is even more extreme in Maryland, with those aged 18-24 making up only five percent of the population who voted. Jain attributes this to the trend of young voters feeling insignificant or unheard. “It's because we don't feel like we're heard. We don't feel like we are valued,” he says. 

Jain urges all students to follow in his footsteps: reaching out to local campaigns and politicians that they care about and volunteering in any way possible, as 2024 is the biggest year in election history. “This is one of the most important elections of our lifetime. And if we don't get involved, if we don't make our voices heard, if we don't vote, if we don't volunteer, honestly, our democracy is on the line,” Jain says.

Last updated: Feb. 16, 2024, 1:36 p.m.

Alexander Liu. Hi, I'm Alex (he/him) and I'll be a staff writer for SCO this year. I'm passionate about public policy and international relations. In my free time, I enjoy drawing and watching terrible rom-coms. More »

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