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La Jolla teen campaigns for equality

A La Jolla teen recently put her time and energy where her convictions were: campaigning for equal rights across the continent.

Olivia Ciesol, 17, a San Diego High School student, was one of 25 California delegates — and the only high school student — to travel to Maine from Oct. 30 to Nov. 4 this year in an unsuccessful attempt to help convince voters there retain that state’s marriage equality law.

Passionate about equality issues, Ciesol cut her teeth campaigning with San Diego’s No on Prop. 8 campaign, which opposed a ballot initiative that passed in November 2008, restricting the definition of marriage to opposite-sex couples.

“I just don’t think it’s right to eliminate certain minority groups’ rights,” said Ciesol about why she spent three hard days recruiting, phone banking and working the polling places for California Young Democrats last election day in Maine, against a ballot initiative equivalent to California’s Proposition 8.

“It was so much fun, but it was so much hard work. We had 15-hour volunteer shifts,” Ciesol said of her experience in Maine. “Everyday we’d wake up early and start canvassing door-to-door walking precincts, then do phone banking, and later on set up tables in high-traffic areas and pass out literature. We would end up doing data entry until 1 a.m.”

Ciesol has a supportive mother backing her political ministrations. Gail M. Goldman owns a public art planning and project development firm in La Jolla.

“It’s unusual to find a 17-year-old high school student with the zeal and courage to spend endless hours furthering a national cause that is not popular or mainstream,” said Goldman. “Nor is it common today for teens to take an active leadership role in the fight for something as selfless as other people’s human rights.”

Asked whether it was difficult to volunteer working on two losing political campaigns, Ciesol admitted it “was frustrating and a little sad,” but added it’s important to keep the ultimate goal in mind. “We talked about it taking a little bit longer to change everyone’s hearts and minds: We’re pretty hopeful for the future,” she said.

Allan Acevedo, regional director for California Young Democrats, characterized Ciesol as a “great asset” to the group.

“One of the main purposes of the Young Democrats is to get people politically involved in issues and candidate campaigns,” he said. “We have a real proud tradition of sending our members out to other campaigns.”

Acevedo said the organization uses a peer-to-peer model for organizing young people, training them to organize other young people and teach them how to campaign.

He said volunteers do everything from “collecting signatures on a ballot initiative to walking precincts for candidates to participating in letter-writing campaigns. We help them in building an infrastructure to move ahead on progressive causes.”

For more information visit www.youngdems.org or e-mail Acevedo at acevedo.allan@gmail.com.