Izeah Garcia: 4th Year History of Public Policy Major
I’ve been trying to figure out something about Izeah that’s plagued me for a long time: is he a nerd? At first glance he breaks many of the nerd stereotypes: he’s fit, dresses well, and is extremely sociable. Izeah can be found at parties on Del Playa as often as he can in the library. There’s no Star Wars t-shirts or massive horn-rimmed glasses to be found. Instead, a clean polo shirt and nice slacks sit underneath a wide smile and neat haircut. He doesn’t look like a nerd… But the things he gets excited about seem to betray this public façade:
“Specifically, I study Chinese-American trade relations in the context of presidential bureaucracy and administrative functions. That’s kind of what everything’s culminated towards.”
Ok, so he is definitely a kind of a nerd.
But besides the clothes, what really makes him different from his gangly, bedroom-dwelling counterparts is that Izeah is incredibly passionate about putting his titanic love of public policy into practice as a community organizer. Before college, he worked on political campaigns at the age of 16, and after coming to UCSB has amassed quite an impressive resume of political ventures during his four years here. From getting elected to Associated Students, to leading several grassroots campaigns for the local and state Democratic party, to working closely with numerous elected officials, Izeah has found outlets to translate his academic interests into work that affects real people for the better. But he is intriguing to me not just for the amount work he’s done, but for why he did it, and what led him to take the path he has. In many ways, Izeah is the typical college kid, riding the ups and downs of young adulthood where they may lead. In the way approached his own personal journey, however, he is exceptional for his compassion, grit, and self-awareness.
* * *
In high school Izeah carried a burden with him. Growing up in Fullerton, CA he felt that his positioning as the first of his family to have a shot at going to college meant he needed to make the most of every opportunity he was afforded. Even beyond his immediate family, he could see how many of his fellow students would never be able to hope for the future he had at his fingertips. Though he went to one of the better magnate high schools in the area, he observed disturbing patterns of socioeconomic discrimination. Many poorer students were denied the necessary college preparatory classes only available to those fortunate enough to be able to pass the standardized testing which lower-income public schools simply did not prepare the majority of their students for. “I usually use the case of my high school as a perfect case for institutionalized racism,” he told me, describing how he found himself mostly surrounded by upper-middle class white kids who has been given the adequate education to prevent being weeded out of the elite high school. This early experience had a profound impact on the goals Izeah set for himself.
One of those goals was to attend a college where he could establish himself within a large body of students. He turned down admission to a smaller private university, saying that he wanted to prove he could succeed on a big level: “If I can make something of myself there, I think I can assert myself at an even larger scale. If I can make it there, I can make it wherever I want. I just saw a bigger mountain to climb.”
Another reason he eventually chose to attend UCSB rested in the scholarship he received. Money was a big concern for him, and when he first got to college he chose to study Economics in hopes of one day having a high-paying job in the field. In the dreaded Econ-1 course all hopeful economics majors take, Izeah received a good grade but realized pretty quickly that he just didn’t find the work compelling. Moreover, he began to hypothesize that without that passion, he would never be able to consistently succeed in the major. A small interest in the hard sciences caused him to take some chemistry classes, but again, he did well without feeling anything beyond stressed at the work it took. What Izeah wanted to find was something that could give him the skills and information he needed to be successful, while still satisfying his intellectual curiosities.
Outside of the search to find the right series of classes, Izeah dove headfirst into as many extracurricular activities as he could: “I tried to do everything,” he remembers, “I wanted to find my niche.” He instantly made friends with his dorm mates. He rushed an academic multicultural fraternity. He competed with the club wrestling team, and even made regionals. Most importantly, he applied and was selected for a fellowship with Associated students that led him to enter the world of school politics. He immediately loved it. Izeah had always liked government- in high school he had served on ASB and even interned for a congressional candidate. But in UCSB’s AS he saw an opportunity to serve students in a very concrete way that differed from the resume-building fluff of high school government. “This is probably the space I want to invest in,” he decided, “As soon as I set eyes on the Associated Students space, I thought ‘I want to be AS president.’ This is what I want to do.”
His fellowship turned into a role in the External Vice President of Local Affairs Office where he did outreach and advocacy in the Isla Vista community. Among the projects he undertook was a survey on housing and other insecurity needs that ended up receiving a huge response, and led to the drafting of several actionable policies. The biggest find was that more fencing was needed along the cliffs of Del Playa to help prevent the string of tragic student deaths which was occurring with alarming frequency. Watching a solution bloom out of this hard work with AS instilled a sense of belief in the power of public outreach for Izeah. The success he earned there geared him up to run for AS Senate at the end of his first year. When he won the election and cemented his spot as a senator in the following year’s cohort, Izeah realized that he had discovered something he wanted to organize and orient the rest of his college experience around. He had found his mountain.
Izeah also referred back to his high school ways when he started working as a caller on a campaign for a local ballot measure. As a Spanish speaker it was his job to call Hispanic families and advocate for his cause. It wasn’t always fun work, but Izeah had a knack for it. It wasn’t always fun work, but Izeah had a knack for it. “I try to be pretty charismatic,” he said, “People would invite me into their homes and the conversations would extend.” This would be his start in the Santa Barbara political scene. This would be his start in the Santa Barbara political scene.
All of these activities were pushing Izeah further and further into a real-world study of how politics and policy played out in his everyday life. It was only natural then that he enrolled in a public policy class- he chose a class called simply “Capitalism.” The professor who taught it was exceptionally inspirational, and almost instantly Izeah was struck by the power of the knowledge he could gain: “I just got really into it man. I knew that this was a very essential study of information that would really help me when it came to understanding why there are problems in our nation, or in in the world.”
Another class followed the first, and Izeah became fascinated with learning about economic systems and capitalism a whole. Before long, Izeah decided to switch his major to History of Public Policy. His academics were now aligned with his interests outside of the classroom, and the world was his oyster. He was poised to go on to accomplish the things he set out to do, make a splash in a big pond. One day, he would even get a shot at AS President.
But that summer everything changed.
* * *
Izeah went home to intern for a consulting firm near his hometown where he wrote policy briefs on issues surrounding agriculture, water, and labor. One day in the middle of this stint, Izeah suddenly experienced acute chest pain that caused him to visit a doctor. He remembers being asked if he had taken any amphetamines that morning, which he had never taken in his life, and then passing out in an ambulance where it was suspected that he may be having a heart attack. He woke up in a hospital the next day.
“Pericarditis and pericardial effusion,” he said, “Basically, my heart was getting squeezed real bad. I almost died.”
Izeah spent three days in intensive care and another week in the hospital. In comparison to his normally busy lifestyle, he really couldn’t do much besides sit and think. All of things he was previously focused on now seemed insignificant in the wake of a near death experience. The craziness, the ambition, the running around- it all felt irrelevant. “Everything kind of stopped at that moment,” Izeah recalled, “I was like, ‘what am I doing?’”
By that point Izeah had termed out of his AS Senatorship, and his work as a canvasser was put on hold. From his hospital bed he learned that he would have to take steroids for the next six months. He wouldn’t be able to exercise in that time, and anything else highly active was a no-go. “In that context, I knew I had to reprioritize,” he told me.
When he returned to Santa Barbara that fall, his lifestyle reflected his need to rethink his activities. The main shift was refocusing on school as a top priority. He thought he would put all of his energy into completing the major as soon as possible and graduating early. He resigned from his AS duties, and scheduled his classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays so he could return home for treatment during the rest of the week. During that time Izeah began taking graduate level history courses, sometimes entailing up to a thousand pages of reading per week. He learned to use his downtime to efficiently absorb texts on economic policy throughout American history. This is when Izeah thinks he turned from someone who was merely interested in the field to a true academic, dedicated to knowing all he could possibly know: “I was really into the nitty gritty of American policy. I knew this was something I really liked.”
For all of Fall quarter, Izeah oscillated between class, treatment, and reading, keeping a low-profile and staying relatively dormant outside of his academic pursuits. But even though he knew he would be inactive during that time, focusing on school and school alone left him feeling kind of empty. His six months in recovery saw Izeah fall out of shape in a way he had never experienced, and he did not like it. He told me he felt “bummy” and lethargic. A sort of pent-up energy was building inside of him, and when doctor finally cleared him after six months he couldn’t take it anymore. He immediately reached out to an old connection from his time working on campaigns. She suggested that he simply go out for a “walk.” He would knock on some doors in downtown Santa Barbara, gauge the general vibe of the electorate, and see how he felt.
Dormancy is just not something Izeah is capable of. As soon as his feet hit the concrete, the spark was rekindled. “There was just more I wanted to do,” he explained. The buzz of election season was just too enticing.
* * *
Things escalated quickly from there. He signed an internship form with a local congressional candidate, and from there moved to work on the campaign of Das Williams for supervisor of Santa Barbara County. On this campaign Izeah was out in neighborhoods every day, knocking on doors, and building relationships with the community by listening to people’s wants and needs, and trying to persuade folks that Williams was the best man for the job. Months of hard work paid off when Williams’ won the seat by a solid margin.
After the election Izeah, was poked by another Democrat leader to take on the unenviable job of taking over and rebuilding UCSB’s Campus Democrat group. By then he was heavily into graduate level work in his major, and out of necessity Izeah learned to balance his school and political activities all while maintaining his health. Initially he turned down the offer: the club was in complete disrepair, with only a few half-way committed members and absolutely zero presence on campus. Izeah didn’t think he had the time or energy to revitalize the club on top of his other endeavors. But after a few weeks of discussion it became clear that if he wasn’t going to do it, no one else would. That just didn’t sit right with him.
So Izeah set out to do what he does best; build enthusiasm and bring people together. The summer before his senior year he stayed in IV to get the ball rolling. He recruited a small team of capable leadership, and together they began the process of making the campus Dems relevant again. They spent weeks tabling at the Arbor and outside the UCen, setting up social media accounts, and hosting all kinds of events on campus to raise membership. Izeah drew on his experience as a canvasser to guide him in the process: “I knew the only way to build an organization, the only way to organize is to just go out and talk to people. For hours, day in and day out.” At their first meeting, only seven students showed up, three of them being Izeah’s friends who he pestered to come. It was disheartening, but they did not give up. More tabling, more outreach, and more action was taken. At the end of UCSB’s week of welcome they held their second meeting, and to Izeah’s delight over seventy new students packed into a small conference room to be a part of the club. “I was fired up bro!” Izeah grinned, remembering.
Success built on success. That year the campus Dems set a record for voter registration in IV. When the dust of the general election settled, Democratic leaders won almost every seat in the district, thanks in part to the efforts of the campus Dems. Izeah saw there was now a mandate to advocate on behalf of the student community. He worked with numerous elected officials as an expert on higher education policy, and spent some time teaching his process of organization building to the California College Democrats organization. Now approaching the end of his college career, Izeah has focused on laying down institutional procedures for the Campus Dems that will allow them to remain healthy and growth oriented long after he leaves. When he does, he plans to return to the Orange County area to continue his advocacy in the place where he grew up.
* * *
With his knowledge of policy, and dedication to street level action, Izeah developed into one of the most capable organizers UCSB has ever seen. Though many students come to this conclusion eventually, Izeah had the foresight to understand what so takes so many students years to understand: “I realized it doesn’t really matter what you study so much as what you do outside of the university space. I chose something that would give me latitude so that I could go out and do stuff but that I really enjoyed.”
That latitude allowed him to learn what it actually took to be a leader in the political realm. It’s not about titles, it’s not about prestige, and it’s not about making big decisions. In the end, Izeah told me it’s about moving people: “After I just talked to a lot of people, it really humbled me. I want to find people and move people and see what they want. We can fix so many things.” As Izeah realized, the best understanding of policy is not enough to put it into place. To do what he loves, Izeah had to hone his knowledge into a tool by using real-world experience:
“Organizing is the essence of movement in people. If you want to change the world, if you want to make things better for people, you have to go out and knock on doors.