In a sea of suits and ties, Jerome Fleming is not your typical congressional candidate. Wearing a red plaid shirt and jeans, the vice president of the Cabarrus County chapter of the Young Democrats of North Carolina looks more like he's hiking a mountain than running for District 83, which includes Cabarrus, of the state's House of Representatives.
This past weekend, candidates like Fleming, elected officials and Young Democrat members gathered at the 2012 Young Democrats & College Democrats of North Carolina Convention. Members and politicians networked, caucused and attended classes on working in politics during the three-day event, which took place Friday through Sunday at the Blake Hotel.
"We're growing up and seeing the same thing over and over again," Fleming, 29, said. "You can't do things like everyone else."
The Young Democrats is the official youth branch of the North Carolina Democratic Party and consists of several chapters. Membership is open to Democrats between the ages of 18 to 35, and groups of five or more can create an official chapter.
Convention attendees used canvassing and phone banking to speak out against Amendment One, the proposed anti-gay-marriage legislation that, if passed May 8, would constitutionally define marriage as a union between a man and a woman in North Carolina.
"It's more of a generational issue," said Vibhav Kollu, president of the North Carolina Association of Teen Democrats who will be a freshman in college this year. "If you're a young person, you are more than likely to know someone who is gay."
High school juniors Cam Piper and Casey Aldridge started a Young Democrats group at Concord High School to bring awareness to the issue. "Opinions at our age are so different from North Carolina's legislation," Piper said. "[Laws] don't reflect young people's opinions at all."
The convention also featured strong female leaders. Wake County Soil and Water Supervisor Jenna Wadsworth became the youngest woman to be elected to any office in North Carolina at the age of 21. Although Wadsworth, now 24, is considered a ground-breaker in this role, she said she had to contend with gender bias during her campaign. But that did not stop her. "You can't sit around and wait for other people to do things that need to get done."