The delegates designed their own sessions focused on leadership and skill development, developed strategies to solve problems in their communities, and learned the importance of advocacy at all levels of government.
Youth delegates from 37 cities across the nation convened this week at the 2017 Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C. In sessions with their peers and other youth allies, the delegates critically analyzed issues in their communities and developed strategies and solutions.
In one of the most engaging sessions, Lobbying and Advocacy: Making the Youth Voice Heard, delegates heard from former congressional staffers as well as current lobbyists and consultants about the importance of the youth voice in all levels of government and their power to make a difference on both a small and large scale.
As part of this session, each youth council represented at the conference identified a problem in their city, formulated a solution, and developed a plan to lobby local, state and federal leaders for change. They then encapsulated the problem, its solution and convincing messaging into a concise elevator pitch. Here are five issues discussed at the session:
Lack of youth involvement in local government: Delegates from Olathe, Kansas, and Fayetteville, North Carolina, identified the potential benefits of increased youth participation in local government, and each youth council took a different approach to this issue. Delegates from Olathe suggested creating a teen council to listen to other youth problems and presenting those problems to city councilmembers. Delegates from Fayetteville created a plan to lower the local voting age to 16 to increase voter turnout and local knowledge. Their strong argument: “Sixteen-year-olds pay taxes if they have jobs – and there should not be taxation without representation!”
Possible loss of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding: Delegates from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, identified the importance of CDBG funds in their city that help subsidize many youth programs. One delegate from Milwaukee noted that “these programs affect the longevity and success of youth in our city.”
Plastic pollution in cities: Delegates from Hillsboro, Oregon, described their plan to ban plastic bags in their city as “a way to save the community and contribute to a global movement.” They highlighted the fact that more than 50 percent of plastic bags are used just once and then thrown away.
Mental illness awareness and resources: Delegates from the cities of Brighton and Loveland in Colorado addressed the lack of mental illness awareness and resources in their schools and communities. Both youth councils emphasized reducing teen suicide rates and teaming up with mental health organizations to implement more programs.
Dangers of invasive species: Delegates from Buckeye, Arizona, shared a unique problem in their community: the damage created by an invasive plant, the salt cedar tree. One salt cedar tree can use up to 300 gallons of water per day, meaning that 200,000 households could use the water currently being used by salt cedar trees. Their solution? Release the Salt Cedar Creek Beetle to combat the invasive species. The delegates highlighted the documented success of this strategy, which is already underway in some areas of Texas.
Feedback from the session’s panelists allowed the youth to expand on their ideas and explore ways to make their arguments more powerful. The delegates also learned about the importance of highlighting reliable data and sharing examples of best practices in similar towns and cities.
Youth delegates are sure to take their invaluable experiences at the Congressional City Conference back to their youth councils at home to spark effective change in their communities. Their enduring engagement and involvement in all of the sessions proved their dedication to the betterment of their communities.
About the author: Alessia Riccio is the 2016-2017 National League of Cities Menino Fellow in the partnership between Boston University’s Initiative on Cities and NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.