This morning I was thrilled to visit with over 100 students visiting Washington, D.C. through the Close Up Foundation, which brings thousands of high school students from around the country to our nation’s capital each year to inform, inspire, and empower them to exercise their rights and accept the responsibilities of citizens in a democracy. Each student group spends a week touring the U.S. Capitol and the monuments, hearing from thought leaders on a range of topics and tapping into specific ways that they can bring civic engagement back home with them.
My task was to help explain how an organization like the League of Women Voters advocates on public policy issues at the federal, state and local levels. I shared with them how the League’s unique grassroots structure enables our leaders to effectively create change not only in the halls of Congress, but also in their state capitals, mayoral offices and city council chambers where important decision are made every day. I also told them about the important educational work League volunteers have done for 94 years to help all eligible Americans—particularly high school students, new citizens and other underrepresented groups—participate in democracy and voting.
To help illustrate how the advocacy process works “in the real world,” I could think of no better example than the work League leaders and our many partners are doing right now to protect voting rights at all three levels: advocating for the passage of a restored Voting Rights Act in Congress, standing guard against state legislative attempts to erect barriers to the vote; and, at the local level, meeting with local elections officials year in and year out to ensure voters have a smooth Election Day experience. The students were overwhelmingly aware of and ready to talk about these pressing issues.
Our resulting discussion touched on careers in public advocacy, income inequality, electoral participation among young people, the damage done by partisan gerrymandering, and much, much more. Several students came up to me afterwards to tell me about philanthropic and advocacy-related work they are already doing in their communities, and one even asked for help getting a high school voter registration program started in her remote region of Alaska.
Today was a wonderful reminder of the power of young people to make change in their communities. I’m so thankful to have spent the morning with these student activists!