September 25, 2019 – Earlier this week, representatives of governments from around the globe were asked to do more than just consider the perspective of an often muted generation. Members of the United Nations were urged to step up and embrace policy changes focused on saving our planet. However, it was truth spoken to power by 16-year-old activist, Greta Thunberg, that not only polarized conversation around climate justice but reminded the ‘adults in the room’ of this fact: public policy and advocacy are spaces for youth voices too.
Like, Greta Thunberg, I too was an advocate for a host of issues and policy platforms I held dearly and reflected my values at age 16 and younger. While many of my peers were often discouraged from sharing their own personal views on politics, news and other pressing current events, here I was not only conversing these topics with older people but engaging in debate, which often resulted in finding common ground even amid heated discourse. These vivid and engaging experiences are a major factor in why I’ve continued my advocacy into adulthood.
Nonetheless, in my experience of working in collaboration with our state’s youngest residents and constituents, I’ve heard the epithet of not being able to vote as an excuse to dissuade their interest and involvement in public policy spaces. After being turned down for expressing real, raw experiences time and time again, we, as the ‘adults in the room,’ have collectively diminished their will to contribute in these spaces. Consequently, many of our youth carry this doubt into adulthood – when they are able to vote or even run for office themselves.
At Michigan’s Children, it’s our steadfast commitment to ensuring public policy reflects the voices of unheard generations and encourage all youth to contribute by becoming change agents, voicing their perspective and experiences directly to policy-makers and influencers alike. For decades, Michigan’s Children has witnessed the very real impact of elected officials hearing directly from constituents, including the K-12 student who feels, they “shouldn’t be here, but in school,” as Greta Thunberg stated in her testimony at the United Nations this week.
As one of the leading public policy organizations in our state, let us be clear: Michigan youth, you absolutely belong and are welcomed here.
For more information on how to become civically engaged beyond voting, check out this online resource and look at the many ways that Michigan’s Children learns from youth and families on our website. We would love to work with you to amplify your voice.
– Adam Bingman is the newest edition to Michigan’s Children staff team serving as Director of Communications and Outreach.