“New Faces, Fresh Hope”
By Jean Hastings Ardell
Amanda Gorman’s reading of her inaugural poem, “The Hill We Climb,” as President-elect Joseph R. Biden took office on Jan. 20 lifted the spirits of a worn-down nation. As The Guardian put it, Gorman “stole the inauguration show …. [and stirred] hope and awe.” Biden, the oldest president ever, had, in his wisdom, included this 22-year-old with definite star power.
I’ve heard it complained in Laguna that certain of our organizations have been run by the same old, same old faces, so I’m happy to present a couple of local twenty-somethings who are on the rise. One of them was among the Laguna Beach High School students and graduates who formed a coalition last spring calling upon the school district to “actively combat racism … in our community and beyond.”
On Jan. 13, I attended the Zoom meeting of the Laguna Beach Democratic Club. Notable about the meeting – besides its civility in this fraught political time – was the election of the 75-year-old club’s youngest board ever.
“Four of our nine new officers are under 30, and club membership is younger than in past years,” incoming president Gwen McNallan said.
McNallan has an affinity for kids, having grown up the sixth of nine siblings.
“I learned early to use my voice to make change happen,” she recalled in a Zoom interview. “I was the first daughter in the family to play sports.”
She went on to play volleyball for North Hennepin College and coach girls’ volleyball. Now the Executive Director of ASSE International Student Exchange, McNallan continues to work with students.
McNallan said she has no plans for the Club to slack off after Biden’s election.
“Our two biggest priorities are getting Katrina Foley elected as County Supervisor of the Second District next month and regaining Harley Rouda’s congressional seat next year,” she said. “So I’m excited about the people who have stepped up to serve the Club. I’ve been a coach all my life—it’s all about teamwork.”
Among those on her team is club vice-president Alex Rounaghi, whose first memory of politics was a mock election in 2004: he was the only student in his first-grade class at El Morro Elementary School to vote for Democrat John Kerry.
At Laguna Beach High School he was senior class president and an American Legion Post 22 Boys State delegate. Serving as a page to Sen. Dianne Feinstein in 2015 was his biggest moment.
“Working on the Senate floor showed me how national politics worked – she’s a model of a what a public servant should be,” Rounaghi said.
After double-majoring in government and history at Dartmouth College, Rounaghi returned home to Laguna Beach “Grass roots politics and policy making at the local level is often overlooked,” he observed. Serving as a commissioner of the Orange County Juvenile Justice Commission in 2015-2016 he saw up close the plight of “vulnerable youth, and how important it is to have good local leadership.” He also supports the idea of the Police Ad Hoc Task Force, which will study what the Laguna Beach Police Department can do to improve its practices and community relations.
The new Democratic Club secretary is Caspian Brock, the daughter of an immigrant Persian-Armenian mother who “always made sure we were involved in what was going on in politics,” and an American father involved with addressing climate change.
Brock’s love for travel and living in the Middle East and Central America “opened my eyes to how American politics plays out in the world,” she said in a Zoom interview.
After graduating from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in Middle Eastern Studies and Arabic, she worked this past fall as field organizer for a record-setting Get Out the Vote campaign in Iowa before working as field organizer in Georgia to elect Senators Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock, a success she says culminated from eight to 10 years of grass-roots work. Brock sees plenty of work to do in Laguna.
“I’m white in a white community,” she said, “and even our board and club represent that.” Brock had organized a “die-in” in the Laguna Beach High School quad after the 2014 Ferguson, Missouri, protests and last year helped organize a Black Lives Matter protest at Main Beach. “We need to uplift and engage the voices of color in our community to strive for racial justice,” she said. “Living in a battleground place like Orange County it’s incredibly important to be on the ground between election cycles.”
Laguna has had a cottage industry of complaints about all that’s wrong with the town and the people who run it. Here’s what we’ve done right: our community and school district have produced young people like Rounaghi and Brock, who, despite our cynical times, have returned from college dedicated to political activism. The town is fortunate to have them back.
Jean is a Laguna Beach resident and member of the Third Street Writers.View Our User Comment Policy