Andrew Zwicker talks a lot. He just doesn’t really say much.
Standing before three dozen youth reporters at Princeton University, the two-term New Jersey assemblyman waxed poetic about everything from climate change to energy policy. But when it came to the diversity of his district, Zwicker dodged.
“How are you a valid representative for communities of color in New Jersey?” I asked. He pauses, tells me something that diverts from the original question and then moves on.
When he was asked a similar question by another student journalist, Zwicker said, “The communities in my district are not that diverse.” This response was meant to defend his leadership as a white man running for his third term in the 16th District of New Jersey.
According to the 2010 census, Zwicker is right. White residents compose 78.3% of the district. Although that means minority communities are not as immense, it does not mean that they should be neglected.
It places the onus on Zwicker to make them feel more welcomed. In spaces where they are made to feel alienated, representatives need to acknowledge their existence as a stepping stone of building inclusivity.
A few moments later, Zwicker answers a question about his background.
“I don’t know what I’m doing,” he said. “I’m just winging it.”
“Winging” as in winging politics. A man of science, Zwicker had no experience in politics until the day he decided to run for office.
“Do you think the American people deserve someone with more experience?” I asked. Instead of a pause this time, Zwicker told me that this was a hard, but great question. He then proceeded to do the same thing. Curve, scramble and move on – tactics American politicians are too comfortable using.
Growing up in the era of the Trump administration, I have planned and marched in protests, create reform on grass levels, lobby for politicians to hear the voice of marginalized communities, many of those belonging to my community.
I see youth activists every day combating issues ranging from gun violence to climate change because politicians aren’t doing it for them. Students are burdened with a huge responsibility: upholding democracy. Rather than being vessels for it, representatives neglect the main role of their jobs — positions that tax dollars are paying for.
When politicians like Zwicker leave questions unanswered, it validates feelings of distrust. If officials are holding back from the people, then there is no direct pipeline between those in power and those who helped them get there.
Yet Americans don’t always know that they are being used to help politicians get there. Zwicker pulled out his phone before the press conference. “Let’s pose for a selfie,” Zwicker said. We didn’t take the selfie.
Is the title of “politician” simply a gimmick now? Zwicker’s methods of deflecting to answer reflect how manipulated democracy has become in America. It no longer works to have honest transparency with the people; it no longer works with them, rather against them.
Zwicker is “winging” it, picking up tips on how to be a successful politician as he goes. And this method of avoidance harbors something eerie; something all-American.