Watching the typical high-schooler text away his time, ears shut to the outside world by a pair of headphones, it is easy to despair of Generation Y. Then we come across kids like Ishan Shah who, at the age of 16, became the youngest person ever to stand for political office.


This was in 2008, when another trailblazer with the impossible name of Barack Obama made it to the White House. As the 2010 midterms approach, Ishan, now 18, is nearing the end of his two-year quest to be elected to the Fremont City Council.

Shah is a senior at Mission San Jose High School. His parents run franchise UPS stores. “My parents live the embodiment of the American dream,” says Shah. Having no political connections, it has taken him every minute of the last two years to create support for his unusual candidacy.

“I haven’t slept much these last couple of years,” laughs Shah, who continues to maintain a full course load at high school. “I am the underdog, I have to work twice as hard.” After school Shah spends time meeting residents, and conducts research into the wee hours of the night. “It is all a matter of good planning.”

Has he had to make some compromises at school to keep his candicacy going? “I’m pretty good at staying on top of school stuff,” states Shah emphatically. “The current members of the City Council hold full-time jobs and have family responsibilities along with their council position. My schedule as a student is actually more flexible. Besides, I quite like walking around school in formal attire,” he adds with a smile.

His confidence was given a boost by the unlikely success of Barack Obama’s campaign, whose style he emulates. “Our biggest challenge is name recognition and we’re countering that by creating our own grassroots movement using social networks.” Even though these networks are largely populated by youngsters, “Every child has two parents, and I hope my supporters on sites like Facebook will influence theirs.” He believes the eccentricity of his campaign is drawing many people in. “When your campaign brings in people who have never voted before into the political process, you know you have a chance.”

For all the quirkiness of his appeal, Ishan is very, very serious about the platform he stands on. “Five words,” he counters, when asked about the reason for his campaign. “Pay more attention to schools.”

“This is a matter that’s very close to me,” he says. “I’m a senior and I know exactly what’s going on in the schools. Fremont schools face a severe problem of overcrowding. And it is just amazing that schools are never mentioned in the city council meetings. I think that’s wrong.”

“When people hear I am pro-education, they assume I’m going to be anti-development,” he adds. “But I am for smart development, which takes into account the consequences of growth.”

Given his youth and his newness in the political arena, does he think he can make his voice heard if elected? “I am going to be very vocal in the meetings,” Shah says with a grin. “Sometimes it is just a matter of bringing your issues up and getting your voice heard.”

Last year Shah started a campaign to generate interest in bringing a movie theater to Fremont, which he was convinced would add to much needed city revenues. In April 2010, as a result of the grassroots effort he began, an application was made to the City Council for a new theater in the Pacific Commons development.“At the end of the day I know I’m going to make a difference in the community,” insists Shah. “I have that confidence because I believe in the American system. It is not perfect but it works.”

To contribute to or volunteer on Ishan Shah’s campaign check out Summer internships are also available.

Vidya Pradhan is a freelance writer and political activist who lives and works in California. She has worked as the editor of India Currents previously. Currently she volunteers as an English tutor to...