On Behalf of Connecticut’s First Congressional Youth Cabinet
In the course of our nation’s history, a strong democracy has always been predicated on the moral integrity, dreams, and unselfish interest of citizens- individual and collectively, to engage in activities that better our society. In light of current headlines that tell the stories of our current societal ills that include mass murders, a fascination with celebrities behaving badly and a wholesale disconnect of citizens from their government, a person could think that America’s progress has stalled. However this week, in a quiet moment in our nation’s Capitol, the opportunity to re-engage America’s citizenry in understanding their role and connection to the work of our government occurred. Young Americans were allowed to make history and be seen as partners in keeping democracy in America alive and well.
On the morning of July 24, 2012, twenty-four youth from Connecticut’s first Congressional district, representing approximately half the members of Connecticut’s First Congressional Youth Cabinet, were invited by U.S. Rep. John B. Larson to present before the Members of House Democratic Caucus. What the Congressman’s invitation allowed us to do was to ask lawmakers to begin to allow youth voice a place at the policy making table.
Historically youth have not been given a meaningful role or connection to policy matters that concern their very lives. This disconnect means that policy makers on all levels of government miss the opportunity to realize the best return on investment of federal dollars expended for young Americans. Today, there exists a growing body of scientific evidence that youth participation in the setting of youth policy, involvement in program design and implementation and the evaluation process produces better outcomes in the realms of health, education and social services aimed at youth.
While in our nation’s capitol, Congressman Larson asked us to announce at a press conference, legislation he has sponsored that would create a Presidential Youth Council. This legislation, if passed, will allow youth to be heard at the Executive level, and is being hailed by young citizens across the country. We were very proud to have been a part of its introduction. We hope for wide-spread support so that this youth engagement opportunity becomes a reality.
Youth engagement has already seen positive outcomes beginning with our organization. Personally, I see the Cabinet as the beginning of a vision where youth actually have a role in government. Our one collection of about 50 students has influenced legislation and youth policy on the federal, state and local level. At the local level, each student is a role model in their own schools looking for ways to get the student voice out to improve the quality of education and student programs. One CYC member organized students in his high school to turn out for a town hall meeting for a vote to increase the budget for improvements to the high school. After years of refusals to do so by both town officials and voters, youth turnout changed minds and has kept their school from losing its accreditation and kept a high school education meaningful in their town. He credits his experience on Congressman Larson’s Youth Cabinet as his inspiration to urge his classmates to attend the meeting and have their voices heard. The Cabinet has held a field hearing open to all residents of Connecticut to provide children who do not usually have a voice the chance to tell state and local lawmakers about how the current economic situation has impacted their lives. The testimony from this event has inspired a law, An Act Concerning Children in the Recession, to be created that activates particular social programs to combat recession caused poverty. The Cabinet has also written a report, On the Cusp of America’s Future: An Urgent Analysis of the Status of Children & Youth Of Connecticut’s First Congressional District 2011, about the youth and children within the 1st Congressional District of Connecticut that has been referenced in a piece of anti-bullying legislation that is now before Congress. Our one youth cabinet has accomplished so much for the youth of our state and of our nation already, imagine the impact of each member of congress having their own youth cabinets.
Youth civic engagement is critical to our democracy. The future of our democracy depends on each new generation developing the skills, values and habits of participation. We thank our Congressman for the creation of our First Congressional Youth Cabinet, his leadership in providing opportunity for youth voice to be heard in our nation’s capitol, and his ongoing commitment to hear our voices. All of this provides youth an authentic role in our ability to impact federal policies that affect us as citizens, and fosters a genuine and positive connection to our government in a way that cultivates understanding between citizen and elected official. This type of understanding can take a young citizen and elected official well beyond “field trip” knowledge of one another and increases the likelihood that both will work together to address America’s most pressing issues for a brighter future; our future. We hope all levels of government will begin to hear youth voice and provide us meaningful ways to be engaged. Give us that chance and we can do more than “rock a vote.” We can help more people realize their true, American dream.
—Matthew Wilson, On Behalf of Connecticut’s First Congressional Youth Cabinet.
About the Author:
Matthew Wilson is a 17 year old high school student from Connecticut. Follow him on Twitter @matt_wilson7