Triumphant cheers filled the air as Orange County Democrats, including Gil Cisneros, 39th District congressman-elect and Priya Shah, instructor of women and gender studies at Cal State Fullerton, were honored at the 2018 Obama Awards.
The event was hosted at the Newport Beach Civic Center on Saturday by the Orange County Young Democrats, an organization of young attorneys, businessmen and women, and students who seek to advance democratic values in the county.
Danielle Serbin, chair of the Orange County Young Democrats, joined the organization while in high school in 2004 and said she has been actively involved since graduating college in 2014.
“The theme was celebrating local change makers. All of these individuals have had a profound impact on Orange County in very different and diverse ways, and we wanted to capture that diversity in our awards we gave out,” Serbin said.
Serbin emphasized that young Democrats were the “life-blood” of this election and that millennials are the leaders of “the here and the now.”
Many districts in Orange County flipped from the red to blue in a traditionally conservative region in this year’s historic midterm elections. Representative-elects Cisneros of the 39th District, Katie Porter of the 45th District, Harley Rouda of the 48th District and Mike Levin of the 49th District were celebrated for accomplishing this feat.
“It’s just very exciting that we were able to, not only flip our seat, but all of these Orange County seats. What it really means is that we’re going to be able to work on things that a lot of people have been pushing to the side,” Cisneros said.
Cisneros said the Democratic-elects can now focus on issues like immigration reform, common sense gun legislation, environmental sustainability and health care.
Tim Phan, Orange County Young Democrats academic division director, said the issues are not red or blue and that they will impact millennials on a deeper level than previous generations.
Shah, who received the Harvey Milk award for LGBTQ advocacy, said the blue wave that was achieved with the midterm elections gives hope to the LGBTQ community.
“It means everything. It means that all of our queer youth have a chance,” Shah said. “It’s an award not just for me, its for our entire community and it truly is a night to celebrate.”
Phan stressed that individuals at the congressional level should remain as progressive as they can be and trust that leaders are building a foundation that will be responsive to their needs.
Ahmad Zahra, the newly elected representative for Fullerton’s 5th District on the city council, said he hopes to ensure that everyone has a voice within his term and make improvements to the city.
“That could be anything from the streets being well-lit, the parks being well-preserved and maintained, better police response time, better public safety and making sure people all have options of housing affordability and good paying jobs in the city,” he said.
Shah said she hopes that the newly elected representatives will listen to the constituents in ways they haven’t in the past few decades, especially in the 39th District.
“I really want them to listen to what we the people need and have to say about health care, education and about opportunities for all people regardless of immigration status, race, religion or gender identity and sexual orientation,” Shah said.
Diane Ortiz and Hosam Elattar contributed to this article.