I was honored to be asked to speak at the Essex High School student led walk out. A powerful morning seeing hundreds of students filling the bleachers and hearing 7 others speak from their heart. Our students are making change happen!
Below are my remarks,
Thank you to each of you out here today. Because of each of you and your actions I know my 9 year old son will have a brighter, safer future. Thank you!
I was asked to speak to how youth not of voting age can make change?
I say you can do a lot and you already are: today you are showing our leaders that not only are you willing to stand up for what you think is right – you can make change happen. You are moving us forward!
What else can you do if you can’t yet vote? Reach out to those who can. I may have been elected by residents of Essex Junction that are able to vote, but I represent all residents of Essex Junction – all ages. Same goes for Representative Giambatista, your six Chittenden County Senators and your federal delegation – Senator Leahy, Senator Sanders and Representative Welch. I know some of you don’t live in Essex Junction – find out who your representative is and contact them. Our job is to listen to the wants and needs of our constituents than craft policy. I haven’t heard from a single one of you on what you want and what you feel will make you safer in your schools and community. You need to reach out – call, email, text, write, knock on my door – do it!
In Vermont 17-year olds can vote in the primary election provided they turn 18 before the general election. This year that means if you will be 18 on or before the General Election on Nov 6th you can vote in the primary election Tuesday Aug 14. So some of you 17 year olds can vote this year. I have two challenges for everyone that votes:
Educate yourself – how does government work? What is the process for a bill to become a law? Democracy is messy and it’s definitely not easy but it’s our system and one can be more effective navigating the system when they understood the system. Come to the statehouse (Dylan and I would be happy to help make that happen), take a government class, talk to elected members of our community.
Understand the issue - Spend time reading and listening to reputable publications. Seek out differing opinions. You may learn something that strikes a chord with you, a viewpoint you never thought of. Find the experts. Follow legislation. Right now there are several gun safety bills moving through the statehouse – find out what they are, read them and let your representative know how you feel about them. But safety is not just a gun issue – what else as a community do we need to address – is it more counselors, reform of school discipline, anti-bullying, something no one else has thought of? You all have grown up in the digital age – you know you can find anything online – be careful of what you believe as fact, but use it to understand all you can.
Learn the art of conversation – put down your phone, look the person in the eyes - ask questions, listen and respond respectfully and honestly. I read recently, “Conversations, as they tend to play out in person, are messy—full of pauses and interruptions and topic changes and assorted awkwardness. But the messiness is what allows for true exchange.” This is so true – don’t shy away from it. Yesterday I read an article about kids from Chicago being invited to meet with kids from Parkland, FL. Two groups that couldn’t be more different – one that deals with gun violence daily and one that was one of the safest places to live. Economically, racially diverse kids – but they talked. I’m sure their conversations were messing and full of awkwardness – but they talked. You can do it here - Engage someone who has a different opinion than yours, engage someone you’ve never talked with, engage the new person in school, engage the one sitting by themselves at lunch. Policy change by itself doesn’t often achieve the long lasting outcome we seek for complex problems. A cultural shift is needed for change to truly take hold and it all starts with conversation.
Lead by action – Anyone can talk or complain, action shows you are committed to a cause. For instance, April 2nd the school district is holding a safety forum – if this is an issue important to you – come - engage. Write or call your representative, create a petition for an issue that is really important to you. Become active in local organizations that have a mission that speaks to you. Have an idea but don’t know where to begin? Ask around – you can always reach out to me. Action leads to progress and change.
And one of the most important - Know yourself - Self-discovery continues throughout our lives but you are all in the thick of it now. Pay attention to your heart, to what is important to you, to what values you hold dear. They might be different than what is important to your friends or even your parents. That’s okay. Be true to yourself and commit to those actions and issues that are important to you.
Remember the future is yours – INSIST ON IT!