Political intern Devin Woodruff is forging valuable relationships now to affect change later.
Between Black Lives Matter protestors and outspoken climate activists, young people, perhaps no different than seasons past, seem to be more boots on the ground than hard soles on Capitol Hill. Still, one young person hoping to blaze a path that positions him to fight the good fight from the inside is 18-year-old Devin Woodruff. The Michigan State freshman and political science major is an intern with Congressman Andy Levin’s campaign, working to get the U.S. Representative reelected in Michigan’s 9th congressional district.
Woodruff hopes to become a Congressman or governor himself one day, but today, he’s making phone calls, educating potential voters, delivering yard signs – an operation he heads up – and soaking in as much as he can. I met him on a bright Friday afternoon in September at Congressman Levin’s Warren campaign office. He’s polite and lanky in a tie-dyed sweatshirt, SUPPORT BLACK COLLEGES stamped on the front.
He doesn’t talk much without first being prompted, but when he does speak, he has plenty to say. Woodruff caught the attention of Levin’s field director at a high school event. “I was at an MLK assembly, and I was supposed to be talking about MLK, but I was talking about my political aspirations,” he says, laughing a little.
He’s been working on the campaign since the summertime, recognizing that every inch that political door is wedged open could mean a mile in the long-run. “For a Black young man,” he says, “if someone doesn’t kind of know someone to help let you in, it can be a hard group to get into to. You kind of have to set yourself apart.” Woodruff says he’s been fortunate along the way to make those early connections.
He met Southfield city council president Lloyd Crews, who helped him get an administration internship while he was still at Groves High School in Birmingham. He’s also worked with the Gary Peters campaign, Amani Johnson when he ran for Southfield city council, Michigan Rep. Gretchen Driskell and Congressman Colin Allred from Texas.
Because of COVID, he’s at home with his mom in Southfield instead of on campus in East Lansing. He apologizes a few times throughout the afternoon for lack of the hustle and bustle one imagines when you think of a campaign office weeks from Election Day. The majority of the campaigning is happening remotely, and he’s worried that I won’t be able to get the action shots I want for this piece.
“Usually in campaigns that I’ve previously worked for, we’ve always been in person. When you’re all virtual, it’s just hard to meet people and make those connections – it’s difficult. When you spend all day in the house, it gets old,” he says. It’s clear that, Woodruff, like all of us, is over this virtual half-life. But, alas, here we are.
Woodruff is attracted to politics for its ability to affect real, day-to-day change. “State representatives, they can change the laws, they can really modify them. And congressmen, they can fight for you in Washington. I just think that’s so important just because of the background I come from – single-parent household where I was really raised by two strong women.” That’s Mom and Grandma.
He says his vantage allowed him to spot the inequalities that exist and getting out into the community and having an opportunity to make a difference is what lights his fire. This will be his first time voting in a general election.
“It’s exciting, being able to vote in this historic time period, and, hopefully, elect a new president. I just hope the youth, that we turn out. It’s our democracy that’s at stake, and we really just need to get out there and vote for candidates that truly believe in our values and will uphold them when they get in office.” Issues on his heart include criminal justice reform, the affordability of quality education and Social Security benefits – “for my grandmother.”