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Eighteen-year-old Michigan delegate Ethan Petzold spoke to Youth Radio’s Myles Bess about fulfilling a childhood dream to attend the Democratic National Convention. Petzold said, “Being able to do that, and to represent the voters in my district, and to be their delegate is surreal to me. But it’s also humbling that people chose me to do that.”
MB: Can you tell us a little bit about how you got your start as a delegate?
EP: So, when I was really young, I looked up to the presidents. In large part because I had a lot of learning disabilities. I was diagnosed with high functioning autism, and I looked up to the presidents as role models. So that kind of kept me going, kept me ready to work hard. In 2008, President Obama inspired me to shift that interest in presidents into an interest in politics.
MB: Take me back, what’s fourth grade Ethan like watching the conventions?
EP: Back then, I was like, “One day I’ll be president.” I don’t want that anymore. But I think it was just something I admired. The people who led our country through the good and the bad. I tried to read about where they were from, their families.
In second through fourth grade, I knew all the presidents. I knew them in order from beginning to end. I knew the days they were born and the days they died. Tons of other random facts about them. I was intrigued by them. It was the one thing I constantly read about. It was the one thing I constantly studied. To see them grow up and become the people they were, was inspiring to me. So I would just read about all the presidents.
MB: Politics can be a roller coaster ride of emotions. Have you ever wanted to throw in the towel?
EP: If there was one event, it was the election of 2014. That night, when almost none of the candidates I worked for won, I felt like I did all this work for nothing. When a bunch of people were texting me, “I don’t think I’ll make it to the polls.”
I remember, when the results came in, I remember thinking, “I should move out of Michigan. These voters are hopeless.”
MP: How did that frustration affect you and your commitment to political issues?
EP: Sometimes it’s kind of a losing battle, I feel like. Trying to explain to people that in order to change the system we have to be part of changing the system. So it’s frustrating. Sometimes I do feel like I should just give up. I just have to keep reminding myself that someone’s gotta do it. Somebody has to be involved. If I don’t do it, if I don’t keep advocating for these issues, if I don’t keep talking to people who are disillusioned, nobody else is going to do it. Because maybe it will make a difference.
MB: What should young people watch for at the convention? What should young people care about this convention? Why should they care about what happens?
EP: I think that they should watch what Bernie Sanders speaks about. He’s going to talk about the importance of defeating Donald Trump. Electing Hillary Clinton. Electing a Democratic Senate and Democratic House.
We’re the party that wants to make college more affordable. And that stands with everyday people. I think young people should watch the democratic convention and compare it with what we hear from Donald Trump. I think it’ll be very clear for young people, which candidate stands with them.
Myles Bess is a reporter for Youth Radio. He will be covering the Democratic National Convention live from Philadelphia.
We also caught up Ethan Petzold at the convention. Click here to watch the video.