I am a senior at Michigan State University (Go Green!) studying international relations and Muslim studies. In the limited free time I have between late nights writing research papers and my internships with the League and the Michigan House of Representatives, I help run social media for an on-campus club for student activists. Learning more about how citizens interact with their governments in my classes inspired me to become more engaged in the surrounding Lansing community and the state, and to make sure other young people are aware of ways to become engaged!
The Michigan Legislature has a big impact on all of our lives. It may not seem as exciting as the weekly crises that arise in the U.S. House and Senate (not to mention the White House!), but the State Legislature has a lot of say in our statewide education system, our ability to receive medical treatment and even in the treatment of the many refugees and immigrants we welcome into our state. Decisions are being made every day that impact all of us, so it is important for young people to be involved in the process.
Young people may not have the ability to vote until the age of 18, but there are many other ways they help advocate for their communities, from joining local advocacy groups or youth advisory councils to organizing protests, petition drives and social media campaigns to calling or writing policymakers.
Throughout Michigan’s history, coalitions of families, young people and adults have launched many successful advocacy campaigns across the state. For example, in 1976 Michiganians collected signatures for the well-known Bottle Bill, which placed a deposit on bottles and cans to encourage returns and recycling. The bill passed in 1978, and Michigan made history as one of the first states with container deposits. And it was local families and community members that made the Emmet County Dark Sky Park a reality in 2011 with their passion for astronomy and the beauty of the night sky. Because of low levels of light pollution in this area, nighttime visitors can see billions of stars and even the arms of the Milky Way!
Young people can also find inspiration in 9-year-old Amariyanna Copeny, also known as “Little Miss Flint,” whose letter to former President Barack Obama about what her community experienced due to lead poisoning spurred his visit to the area and brought national attention to the ongoing water crisis. No matter your age, if you or a young person you know has an issue to discuss with state or national policymakers, make sure to check out these advocacy tips from the League!
If advocacy seems overwhelming, there are many organizations around Michigan that facilitate exchanges between young people and their elected officials. Michigan’s Children has created many programs that connect policymakers with the young people they serve, including their KidSpeak and Youth in Public Policy events.
The Youth Advisory Committee at the Council of Michigan Foundations is another great way for young people to get involved in state policy. This committee is made up of Michigan residents ages 12-21 and is responsible for allocating grant money to nonprofit youth programs around the state.
If you don’t have much free time to spare between classes and after-school activities to commit to a youth committee or similar organization, you can also write a quick email to your elected officials about an issue you are passionate about!
It may seem that young people can’t do much within their communities because they cannot vote—however, nothing is further from the truth. There are many ways for young people around the state to get involved, from writing letters to joining advocacy groups. South African anti-apartheid activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu put it best when he said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Stay educated, stay alert and stay active!
— Casey Paskus