Youth involvement in politics and community service is the key to catalyzing change in government policy, according to Anthony Woods, a former U.S. Army captain and Kennedy School graduate who was honored with the Harvard College Democrats’ “Rising Star Award” in the Kirkland Junior Common Room last night.
During the discussion that followed, Woods spoke to students about how a desire to see political change motivated his personal foray into politics.
A West Point graduate who served two tours of duty in Iraq, Woods was discharged from the military last December after revealing his homosexuality to his superiors.
After becoming frustrated with what he saw as “fundamentally flawed” policies like “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina, Woods decided to run for a seat in the U.S. Congress from California’s 10th district.
“It was jarring to go to New Orleans and see that the government failed miserably,” Woods said. “It was tough for me to realize that this was going on in our country.”
While Woods failed to win a seat in Congress, students at the event said his story was inspiring for young people interested in advocating progressive policies.
“He embodies the statement by [President] John F. Kennedy ’40, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,’” said Jonathan L. Newmark ’12, events coordinator for the Dems.
Woods also stressed the importance of political involvement at the grassroots level.
“Most people followed [my] campaign on Facebook, but how do you translate that into action on the ground?” he said. “You’re already following the campaign online. So get on the phone.”
Last night’s event was co-sponsored by the Harvard Dems, Queer Students and Allies, Black Students Association, and BlackOut.
Lange P. Luntao ’12, the Harvard Dems communications chair and a resident of the California district adjacent to Woods’s, said that Woods was an especially exciting speaker for him because his campaign garnered “lots of publicity about him in both local media and gay media.”
Woods, however, stressed that he found it refreshing to discover that scrutiny of his homosexuality was limited solely to the media.
“I was never asked once about my sexual orientation at a town hall,” he said. “More and more, people are going to care less about your sexual orientation. They’re going to care about solving problems.”
Overcoming the stigma against gays in the military will not be an easy process, Woods told the students, but “it’s the older people that are holding out.”
“The younger generation grew up watching Will and Grace,” he said. “They’re ready.”