By MEI XIN LUO
Tompkins County Legislator Nate Shinagawa ’05 M.A. ’09 spoke about the lessons he learned from his journey as a Cornell undergraduate to a congressional candidate to an audience of more than 150 people Monday.
One lesson Shinagawa recalled was the need to act unconventionally to be successful. Shinagawa pointed to his own experience as the underdog in his congressional race in 2012, when he had limited monetary funds as compared to his opponent, incumbent Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y. 23). Unlike Reed, Shinagawa could not afford to use conventional campaigning methods such as mass distribution of flyers and extensive television publicity, he said.
To make up for limited funds, Shinagawa said he enlisted the help of volunteers and personally knocked on doors during the course of the campaign. Using these methods, Shinagawa noted that he lost by only four percentage points, despite using less than half of the funds that Reed raised.
“I took nothing for granted. To us, this was our guerilla warfare style campaign,” Shinagawa said.
He added that valuing every individual’s contribution was instrumental for success.
“There are people throughout history, like Rosa Parks, who are single individuals that were able to make a tremendous difference without being a person in power. … We took up that kind of mentality as well,” he said. “Because we had to fight that unconventional battle, the one thing we had to do was have more volunteers than anybody.”
Shinagawa said that although he speaks from his experience as a congressional candidate, the lessons he extracted can be applied to on-campus activism and other social campaigns.
In particular, Shinagawa said he feels it is important to share personal experiences to inspire leaders to change and grow.
“You have to tell your story, and help people tell theirs. We can teach anybody how to be a leader by getting them to tell their story,” Shinagawa said.
Rebecca Gallo Lazo ’15 said Shinagawa’s ideas resonated with her.
“I thought it was really interesting that he brought in the aspect of a personal story because often times you don’t really think about how important a personal story is to career development,” she said.
Sarah Paez ’17 said she found the advice Shinagawa offered to be practical, especially for university students like herself.
“He gave us advice on working on the bottom up, and that’s really important to keep in mind especially at a university because you have a lot of ideas and tend to get ahead of yourself. I really like that facet of his lecture because he gave us a lot of really applicable life advice,” she said.
Shinagawa spoke as part of a guest lecture for SOC 2220: Controversies About Inequality. His talk was sponsored by the Center for the Study of Inequality.