March 22, 2010
Renee DeGross Valdes, 404-413-1353
ATLANTA - As a sixth grader in a Seattle public school, Jonathan Miller came face-to-face with activism and grassroots politics. He won an school essay contest, earning him a chance to cover the World Trade Organization conference in Seattle as a student correspondent in 1999.
When riots broke out downtown, he ended up having to watch the events unfold from his living room television instead of in the streets. But the experience led him to study policy-making and government.
"It was an awakening," said Miller, 24, a first year graduate student in the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, and the recipient of the prestigious Dan Sweat Fellowship.
"I was impacted by the passion and politics on the streets of my city," he said. "What I saw elevated my interest."
Miller is putting his studies and research to work as an intern in the office of Gov. Sonny Perdue. There he is working with policy advisors on transportation and the economy. He is also doing a student consulting project with the Atlanta BeltLine, recommending strategies for future commercial growth and economic development.
"Atlantans need to start thinking about public transportation and thinking about how they will be able to integrate it into their lives," Miller said. "[Public transportation] really isn't a culture that has caught on like in D.C. or in European cities."
As an undergraduate at Vanderbilt University studying public policy and Spanish, one project that left a lasting memory is a weeklong alternative spring break trip to Atlanta focusing on homelessness awareness.
"The trip was incredible," Miller said. "It really put a face on the concept of poverty and homelessness. I remember spending the night where the homeless slept in the shelter and one of the men offered me his blanket. My group and I clearly were not homeless, but this man felt compelled to help me and that has been a lasting memory."
Miller said that when he sees homeless people on the streets of Atlanta he typically tries to give them food and he also makes eye contact or says hello to them.
"A homeless man asked us that whenever we see someone homeless or in poverty that we not avert our eyes, but rather make eye contact and nod or say hello," Miller said. "The man said that any simple gesture like that goes a long way in affirming someone else as human, and not something to step around."
Miller's interests go far beyond government policies. Miller spends his free time playing soccer and fly fishing. He also once camped in the Sahara Desert.
In the future, Miller hopes to be working in economic development. But he's also keeping an eye toward holding down a position in a public office.
"It's my most personal and truest goal," he said.
And he is getting experience in front of the camera - he recently appeared on CNN Newsroom with Ali Velshi, where he sat on a student panel and talked about government.