Local Government Needs Young Voices More Than Ever

On Wednesday, November 9th, I was stunned and heartbroken to find that the next President of the United States was someone who ran on a platform of fear and hatred. All of his actions and words were now valid and I felt a little less at home in my country. But I am not someone who typically sits still, even when I don't feel like moving. So on the following Tuesday I attended my city council meeting as a representative for the Community Relations Commission, which investigates issues of discrimination in my community. Two days later, I traveled to my state capitol to give a workshop on building coalitions and the importance of effective relationships in creating change. I have spent every day since the election working, in some way shape or form, to make my community better. I cannot control anything that happens at the national level, but I have found that one person can move mountains at the local level. So that's what I'm trying to do.

I have spent a really long time working to give young voices a platform in the decisions that affect their lives and now I worry that the uncertainty of the future combined with the rhetoric that we keep hearing will do even more to turn off young people from our government. But the truth is, we need you now more than ever. Especially at the local level. Across the country, local boards and commissions exist with empty seats simply because there's no one willing to fill them. A good chunk of Americans don't know who their state representatives are, never mind their city councilors. As individuals, most of us will never have the power to create change within the White House, but every single one of us can impact our city government. Our world needs passionate young voices now more than ever, so I create a handy action list for what every young person can do within the next month for their community.

1. Attend a city council meeting

This is so important. Get to know your city councilors. I have a really close relationship with several of the city councilors in my hometown and I know that I can ask the mayor for anything and, if he can help, he will. Having these relationships are important. In my experience, people want to listen to the things you have to say. But they probably won't seek them out unless you go to them first. So go. Take a friend if that makes it less intimidating.

2. Join a commission

Once you get comfortable with your city councilors, ask about open seats on boards and commissions. I can almost guarantee you can find a spot to get directly involved. I currently sit on a commission in my hometown while advising another one. I am also a student representative on a commission in the town I go to school in. And consider advocating for a youth commission if one doesn't already exist, working to give other young people in your community an official platform for involvement.

3. Email your state representative

Alright, all of these are pretty simple, but I know how basic this one in particular sounds. But really. Find out who your State Representative is and email them. Just introduce yourself, ask what types of committees they're on, see if there are any opportunities for involvement or a meeting. Be sure to mention an issue or two you care about and ask their perspective on it. Honestly, I have emailed dozens of State Representatives for a variety of reasons and I can count on one hand the amount of times I've received absolutely no response. Even if you get a response from a staffer, keep that relationship in mind and bring up the time you reached out if you ever advocate for something.

4. Research Your Important Issues

Write down three issues you really care about. What are the topics that get you fired up? What are issues you directly see in your community? Find out how these are being addressed within your local and state government and research advocacy organizations and offices you can reach out to to learn more. Sometimes it's not about throwing yourself into an issue (though that's always good), sometimes it's about building relationships and offering a supportive role whenever you're needed. I have organizations I'm heavily involved with and organizations that I care about deeply, but haven't really taken on a role with. However, the people here know that I am someone they can turn to, always. And that's very important to me.

This is just the beginning. There are so many ways you can be involved, both at the local and state level. And I understand the hesitance. I've been involved for a long time and I know that there are moments when the world just hurts a little bit too much and you have to take a step back for your own sanity. But when those moments pass, it's important to get to work to build the world you want to live in. A more perfect union requires that active participation and input of all its citizens and this generation has inspired me to believe that we are getting there. Our voices mean something, so it's time we show up and do the work.