Kesha Ram, who grew up on 14th Street in Santa Monica, attended Santa Monica schools and graduated from the University of Vermont in May, has been elected to the Vermont House of Representatives at age 22, making her one of the youngest to ever be elected to state office there.
Ram, who will be inaugurated on January 7th, actually took the seat from incumbent Christopher Pearson of the Progressive Party, winning by about ten points.
“In general, it’s very humbling and honoring, especially given the challenging times we face,” said the Democrat, who majored in political science and natural resource planning.
“I think the accessibility and genuineness of Vermont politics makes it a little easier for someone of my age to get elected because I just work so hard to convey my leadership and experience in the community,” Ram said. “That’s what Vermonters really value — hard work and direct communication. I’d call it doorstep democracy.”
And indeed, work hard, Ram did.
She says she knocked on the door of every house in her district of 10,000. Twice.
“She ran a really good race,” said Ram’s mother, Michelle Jacobson, who was in Vermont for the election. “Even her opponents gave her credit for running a really good race. I’m very proud of her.”
Sixty percent of the voters in Ram’s district, Chittenden 3-4 — which covers Burlington’s Hill Section, Old North End, and the University District — are between the ages of 18 and 25.
“For people in my generation, we spent our entire high school and college career under George W. Bush and it made us feel really unheard,” Ram pointed out. “And my campaign was about taking the passion and energy of a lot of different folks, but particularly young people, and turning it into ideas for how we can build a better future.”
Ram notes that her biggest passion is public service.
“It was instilled in me at a very young age,” she says. “I’ve felt it’s important to be a voice for the voiceless and ensure everyone has access to the political process. I’ve felt that if one could observe problems among their group of friends or in society, it was worth it to try to solve them and be part of the solution.”
Ram was raised by a father who immigrated from India and a mother from Illinois, along with two older siblings, “so there was a really rich tapestry and respect for diversity,” she said.
From a very early age, Ram started reading the stories of women’s rights and civil rights leaders.
These figures — Rachel Carson, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Martin Luther King, Jr., Frederick Douglas, Malcolm X — had a significant impact on Ram.
“They all have a big influence on me because they all had different styles of leadership in terms of advancing some significant changes in society and it helped me to really find my place and the best role I could have in trying to push some of these issues forward,” she said.
Ram has long been involved in politics. Her first leadership role was as the president of the Roosevelt Elementary School student council in Santa Monica.
“Even at that age, I would make speeches to the school board and we created a little newspaper for our parents,” she said. “From a very young age, I’ve felt it’s important to be a voice to the voiceless.”
While in high school, Ram was the education and outreach intern for the Coalition for Clean Air, considered the largest air quality nonprofit organization in California.
“In that role, I worked on building a support coalition for banning toxins from dry cleaning,” Ram said. “It was an early opportunity to influence public policy.”
As a senior in high school, Ram was the commissioner of environmental affairs for the student government and created a new recycling program.
Additionally, Ram was one of three Santa Monica High School students to attend the World Social Forum in Mumbai, India.
“I fundraised $10,000 and worked closely with the City Council and Santa Monica High School” to make the trip possible, Ram said.
She also served as the opinion editor of the school newspaper, where she met Santa Monica City Councilman Kevin McKeown in 2003. The newspaper was produced on Macintoshes and McKeown is the Macintosh consultant for the school district.
“As we worked together on production glitches in getting out the paper, Kesha began to confide in me her interest in politics and the environment,” McKeown said.
And earlier this year, when he heard that Ram was considering running for state representative, McKeown says, “I encouraged her without hesitation. In fact, I contributed personally to her campaign. I know how hard it is to raise political money if you’re not sponsored by corporations.”
After high school, Ram attended the University of Vermont, where she received a full-ride scholarship.
Although the school was not initially high on her list of choices, when she visited the school, she immediately “fell in love with the campus and the community,” she says.
Ram went on to became student body president at the university.
“She has always just jumped right in there and done things,” said Ram’s mother. “People asked me if I thought she would be in public service and I thought she would, but not at 22. I’m surprised with her success at such a young age. I didn’t think it would happen this soon, but I’m amazed that it did.”
In her free time, Ram enjoys being outdoors, going hiking, snowshoeing and singing, a favorite pastime.
And while Ram now lives far from Santa Monica, she says it still feels like her “hometown.”
“I grew up with the Third Street Promenade and the Santa Monica Pier and going through Santa Monica schools,” she said. “I feel a huge connection to the Santa Monica community.”
When asked if she sees herself going further in politics, Ram responded, “I think this is a great time in my life to see what it’s like to affect policy from this angle. My biggest issues are environmental and social justice, creating a green economy, early childhood and higher education.
“I will continue to do as much work as I can to advance those issues, and if that means going further in politics, then that’s what I’ll do.”
Ram says Vermont politics differs greatly from California politics “where you have to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to run for the school board or the City Council before you even get to the lofty position of state representative.”
She continued, “I think in terms of policy and ideology, California and Vermont are both environmental leaders and leaders in equity. They are both states that push the envelope in terms of policy.
“But speaking from experience, I think there were things that I was able to do in Vermont that I wouldn’t have been able to do had I stayed in California.”
For example, during Bernie Sanders’ campaign in Vermont two years ago for U.S. Senate, he invited Barack Obama to be a guest speaker. Sanders also asked Ram, then a student at the University of Vermont, to introduce the event and talk about young people engaging in politics.
It was there that Ram met Obama, alongside whom she ran in the election this month, which she called a “huge honor.”
Ram was also invited by Burlington Mayor Bob Kiss to serve on his Climate Change Commission.
“Those are experiences that I may not have had access to in California because it’s easier for your voice to get lost,” she says. “It’s a very different scale. There are more opportunities for entry points into politics and leaderships in Vermont, I think. Vermonters really value a very direct democracy.
“They want to have access to their leaders and they expect that during campaign season and year round, and that’s the kind of leadership I love most.”
McKeown notes that he’s pleased that Santa Monica High School — and the school district in general — “turns out well educated, highly motivated future leaders.”
He continued, “Kesha is the perfect example of that, and I can virtually guarantee that the Vermont House won’t be all she accomplishes.”