The time has come for millennials to seriously take up positions in office, and one man in Philadelphia is answering the call.
We are starting to see a wave of young faces taking up political positions in every form of U.S. government. From city councils, to state Houses of Representatives, to Congress, and even attempts for the White House.
We got the first glimpse at this oncoming millennial (born between 1981 and 1996) wave when 29-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won a primary race against Rep. Joe Crowley for a seat at the House of Reps.
Since then, the self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist has shaken up Congress with the introduction of a Green New Deal, induction into the House Financial Services and the House Oversight Committees, and inclusive Instagram stories where she gives followers intimate looks into Congress and her political work.
But Ocasio-Cortez was only the beginning of the upcoming wave of millennials and Gen X politicians.
Political movements don’t just happen at the national-wide or even statewide level. Possibly some of the most important ones happen at the citywide or community-wide level. And that’s why we’re so interested in what Adrian Rivera-Reyes has to say.
Recently, we sat down with Adrian Rivera-Reyes, who’s currently running in the Democratic primary for Philadelphia City Council At-Large.
Rivera-Reyes is a Puerto Rican-born US citizen who loves all things Philadelphia. Possibly his only greater passion is the passion to serve, which grew from a young age. His parents instilled in him a love for community service that ultimately shaped his personality and career path.
“My parents started a Thanksgiving Day food drive for the homeless in San Juan,” He explained on social media. “Every year for Thanksgiving day I would join my parents and serve our community. We would recruit our family, neighbors, friends and their families, and members of our church to lend a hand and serve.”
But how did he go from community service to biology and cancer research? And then why is he now pivoting to politics? It all goes back to those early days of community service.
Again, we were able to sit down and talk to Adrian Rivera-Reyes about his political goals, his passion for service, and his hopes for the future.
Instinct Magazine: “One thing that we find interesting is your origin story. Being born in Puerto Rico, moving over to here, and starting with cancer research. Can you give us a little background for that?”
Adrian Rivera-Reyes: “So, when I was throughout high school and undergrad, I started volunteering with a non-profit. Basically with that group, we visited children with cancer. It was just a moment for us to be there and have fun with them and kind of just foster an environment where they are not in a constant reminder that they’re in a hospital room. And that’s kind of where it all started for me in cancer research, which is what I do and what I just got a Ph.D in.”
IM: “Do you find any other avenues where the skills from your prior research and prior study helps with what you’re doing now?
ARR: “So many. Science is- it’s a lot of critical thinking. It’s a lot of thinking outside the box and that’s something that, from the very beginning in a Ph.D program, they’re telling you all the time and it’s about asking questions. It’s something that we don’t really do a lot in government.”
Rivera-Reyes also added that “Attention to detail, and focus” were big factors in how he acts in political matters as well.
“We think in systems. It's how things are actually connected,” he noted. “We won’t be able to cure cancer just thinking of the tumor biology or the biology of the specific cancer. We need to think about everything and the context of everything. We need to think about how the immune system is playing a role in perhaps promoting the cancer. How the type of cells origin. If it’s known.”
To Rivera-Reyes who comes from the world of cancer research, the idea that politicians aren’t putting as much effort into solving fixable solutions was too much to ignore.
“When it comes to policies and government, we have so many societal issues that have solutions. These issues have solutions,” he lamented. “Why aren’t we investing and implementing the solutions that need to be implemented? That’s what we do with cancer. We don’t know the answer to that, but we invest billions of dollars with the hope of curing it one day. But yet these other problems that we have, you know? The solutions are not being invested in.”
IM: “On your campaign’s Facebook page, you’ve mentioned several projects that you’re interested in pursuing. Namely, education equality, getting public libraries funded, the public bank initiative. What among those initiatives are you deeply inspired to pursue?”
ARR: “Education. I wanna do it all, but we have to start with our children. It’s interesting. A lot of the time, I get people who go, ‘You don’t have children.’ I’m like, ‘I don’t have to have children to care about children.’”
“26% of people in Philadelphia live in poverty,” he added. “It’s really hard when our schools are underfunded and then kids that look like me. That could be my little brothers and sisters. My little siblings. How come I had the opportunities despite that I grew up in similar ways? Definitely not in poverty, that’s not what I’m saying, but my parents struggled. And I still get here and I get a Ph.D and we can’t even guarantee that to the children in our city.”
It’s evident that Adrian Rivera-Reyes is passionate about helping others and bettering the lives of us. He’s built his life around the passion. In that vein, he seems to echo the growing surge of millennials wishing to do the same.
According to Pew Research at least 26 millennials are now within the House of Representatives. This post-November number is significant since the number was a mere six before the midterm elections.
But the rise of millennial politicians didn’t stop in Washington. Political crusades were made across the country. Even further, LGBTQ youth showed up in stride to take office across the country. Zach Wahls, who defended his two moms by speaking to Iowa lawmakers about same-sex marriage in 2011, won a seat on the same state Senate. Former marine Neil Rafferty won his bid for Alabama’s State House. Afro-Latino Gabriel Acevero became the first black man elected to the Maryland Assembly. Lastly, Macolm Kenyatta, grandson to late civil rights activist Muhammad I. Kenyatta, became the first openly gay black man to be elected into PA legislature.
For Adrian Rivera-Reyes, all of this is evidence that young voices, and democratic socialism, are the future that America needs.
“It’s been happening for years,” he told us. “The younger generation views socialism more positively than even capitalism. Bernie Sanders started doing a lot of that work and now AOC, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. They went with a bold, progressive agenda. And now we’re talking about Green New Deal. Every single day we’re talking about taxing the rich and the ultra wealthy. And these are not new or radical ideas. These are things that need to be done.”
“So I do see a change. And I see democratic socialism at the forefront. If not, in the very middle of it. Pushing forward. Because now we're talking about rights. We’re talking about housing being alright. Education being alright. And that’s what democratic socialism means to me. No one should be too poor to live in our city.”
But beyond the political labels, ideals, and ethics, Adrian Rivera-Reyes is a man of many walks and communities who wants to help as many people as possible.
“Look, I’m a gay, brown man. There’s people that won’t like me because of my identities,” he explains. “And that’s been my entire life. I’m not afraid to be who I am. It’s been my life, and I thrive. And I look forward to being, like, ‘No. I’m here and this is what we’re doing.' This is me and what you’re getting with me is a human rights agenda with policy that puts our interest and the people’s interest.”
“My agenda- it’s not about who I am," he adds. "It’s not about what winning might represent in terms of what barriers are being broken, it’s about what we need to do. I’m not running to be someone. I’m running to do something.”
If you want to donate volunteer time or money to the Rivera-Reyes campaign, you can head over to their site here.