Building Youth Voices
Youth and Government Preserve through COVID-19
The fourth-floor conference room of a YMCA does not seem like a place where anything impactful would happen, but every Monday, a group of students, from eighth-graders to high school seniors, do what many adults are afraid to ever try. We discuss politics and learn about how government works and how we can make a difference. As the motto of Youth and Government says, “Democracy must be learned by every generation.”
Youth and government at its most basic level is a mock legislature where students write and debate bills. But it is so much more than that. YAG (as we all call it) allows young people to have a voice more than anything else available to us. We get to learn about important topics and make the changes we wish our elected officials would. Most of the kids in YAG are not old enough to vote, but YAG helps us develop our voices and encourages us to be civically involved in a unique way that no other program does.
Normally, YAG culminates with a 4 day convention in Olympia held in May where students from across the state come together and implement all that they have learned from those weekly meetings. We are granted the privilege to use the real legislative chambers to debate our bills, meet the actual people that are currently running our government, and even hold an amazing Governor’s Ball under the Capital Rotunda. This event is the highlight of our time in YAG, and unfortunately, like everything else this year, had to be cancelled due to COVID-19. This was especially difficult, because this year our delegation had 3 major officers (students elected the year before to lead the conference) Caden Stoane-Speaker of the House, Thomas Cassella-Secretary of State, and myself, Maddie Ellis –Governor.
Instead, the youth leadership and a handful of adult advisors planned and implemented a 4 day virtual YAG Week the first week of June. This event included committee debates, guest speakers, chamber debates, and social events all on Zoom. The guests that took time out of their busy days to speak with us were Governor Jay Inslee, Attorney General Bob Ferguson, and Secretary of State Kim Wyman. We also were able to hear from a panel of lobbyists and alumni of the program who gave us inspiration and advice on paths to take after graduation.
For me, youth and government meant an outlet and a place to belong. Every day I learned how to share the thoughts and opinions that I had in my head, speak with confidence, and be myself even more than before. Because of YAG, I grew into the person I am today and made some of my closest friends. I am so thankful for this program and I hope that many more students get the opportunity to be a part of this great program.
Written by: Maddie Ellis