Youth Voices are Forces to be Reckoned With

Published on January 10, 2014 | Written by

In honor of the important conversations that the 2014 Children and Youth Issues Briefing elevated we are sharing an article from our Youth Voices Newsflash from our Development Innovator, Aly Roach, which reflects on accomplishments in 2013 and on the importance and power of youth voice in policy. #BridgetheGap

After the historic Minnesota Youth Council Swearing in at the State Capitol

After the historic Minnesota Youth Council Swearing in at the State Capitol

As a young person who has worked in politics, I see how relevant legislation and advocacy is in the lives of young people. Minnesota made history in the 2013 legislative session with accomplishments made in the areas of human rights, health care, and youth services. Youth in Minnesota will now see opportunities to ensure the safety of their peers, voice their opinions in future policy, and be universally eligible to receive financial aid for higher education. These victories, however, did not come about organically. Behind every successful bill exists hours of hard work driven by the passions of citizens, especially young people.

The Medical Amnesty Bill was an entirely youth- driven piece of legislation that promotes safety for those under legal drinking age. HF946/SF744, provides that underage possession or consumption of alcohol immunity would be provided for a person contacting 911 to seek assistance for another. Previously, state laws discouraged intoxicated minors from seeking help in the case of medical assistance or to report a sexual assault, for fear of state prosecution. The University of Minnesota Student Association largely spearheaded the push for this legislation, encouraging other students around the state to contact their legislators, write letters to the editor in their local papers, and circulate a petition via social media. This youth-led, grassroots movement proved to be a success. The bill passed with an overwhelming 124-8 majority in the House, and went on to secure a 51-10 approval in the Senate.

One important piece of legislation that puts youth at the center of policy discussion is HF 630 – the Minnesota Youth Council bill. The Minnesota Youth Council Committee was established to provide advice and recommendations to the legislature and the governor on issues affecting youth and serve as a liaison for youth around the state to the legislature and the governor. Fewer than a dozen states have adopted a bridge- building measure similar to this. On March 13, 334 young people gathered at the Capitol to hold 91 meetings with legislators on the importance of the youth council, among other issues that affect young people. Evidently, these young advocates made an impression. The Minnesota Youth Council Committee will meet at least twice a year during the regular session of the legislature to select bills in the House of Representatives and Senate for consideration for a public hearing before the committee; propose youth legislation; provide advisory opinions to the legislature on bills heard before the committee; and prepare a youth omnibus bill. As Sarah Dixon, the President and CEO of the Minnesota Alliance With Youth, said, “Youth voice is now the law!”

Another momentous act of progress was enacted in Minnesota in the form of the Prosperity Act, otherwise known as the Dream Act. The Prosperity Act provides that children of immigrants who came to Minnesota without legal status qualify for both in-state tuition and state financial aid programs provided they attended a Minnesota high school for at least three years and graduated. Minnesota is now one of 16 states to offer in-state tuition to undocumented students and one of just four to offer them financial aid. This achievement would not have been possible without the hard work of citizen lobbyists across the state. Tuesday, April 2nd, marked Latino Legislative Day at the Capitol, a day in which groups around the state made the case for legislation such as the Prosperity Act. Youthprise grantee Tamales y Bicicletas established The Youth Leadership Council to organize with families and youth to build a sustainable immigration reform policy and further engage DREAMERS. Their dedication proved to be fruitful, as now all Minnesotans will have opportunities to pursue a college education.

Getting involved politically is a great way for youth to develop leadership skills, advocate for their passions, and challenge their preconceived notion about power dynamics. When I was 15, my high school geography teacher ran for U.S. Congress. Volunteering on Tim Walz’s campaign definitely changed the course of my passions and guided me towards my future area of study. He began as the underdog, a public school teacher with zero name recognition beyond Mankato. Through the work of many dedicated volunteers, Walz eventually overcame and defeated his opponent, a Republican who had been in office for twelve years. This experience made me feel empowered in a way I hadn’t felt before, and inspired a love of civic engagement.

The successes of 2013 can largely be attributed to the determination of young people who pushed for the passage of these bills. In my personal experience, getting involved politically at a young age encouraged me to educate myself on current events, and inspired me to engage civically in ways I would not have previously done. As this legislative session concludes, it is apparent youth voices are forces to be reckoned with.

– Aly Roach, Development Innovator

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