As a young person who aspires to be an activist, I would say that one of the most fun and empowering events I’ve participated in during the past two years has been Youth Lobby Day, which happens every March at the State Capitol. At first, it can be quite daunting, especially when you’re trying to talk to some intimidating legislators about complicated legislation that you don’t fully understand. But navigating the world of politics is something incredibly important when you want to make a difference, and YEA! MN’s Youth Climate Lobby Day is definitely a great place to start.
My first experience of Youth Lobby Day was in 2016, when I was a freshman. I didn’t know all that much about the legislation that was our focus at the time, so when I went to talk to my senator with a group of other students from my school, I held back and didn’t say much. I remember admiring the students who did step up to speak to legislators and those who talked to the governor during the Governor’s Summit. I hoped that I would have the guts and knowledge to do something similar someday.
This year, I joined YEA! MN, and was able to go to the lobby day network meeting in February. There, we learned about how lobbying works and what the exact legislation was that we would be lobbying for and against this year. So I was a lot more confident going into this year’s Youth Lobby Day. I was hoping that this time, I would be able to participate more actively and speak up about the things I believe in.
As the day began, one of the first things I did was meet with my House Representative, Jim Davnie. I was one of the few students who went to visit him, as most of the others from my district chose to go to the other organized Lobby Day activities happening at the time. However, I found that meeting with Representative Davnie was an extremely valuable opportunity, because I was able to be a primary speaker in the meeting and get the full experience of lobbying.
Next, thanks to a connection through MN Interfaith Power & Light Executive Director Julia Nerbonne, I had the opportunity to talk to Lieutenant Governor Smith in the Governor’s office – something I had hoped I could do but never expected would actually happen. As I waited to speak to her, I quickly drafted a letter in which I shared several ways we disagreed about the Sherco natural gas plant and Minnesota’s use of oil. When I got my turn to speak, I didn’t realize how nervous I was until I was well into my letter. I had never talked to someone that high up in politics before, and I was also worried that my letter was badly written because I had written it in about five minutes. Nonetheless, she heard what I was saying, and said that she was open to my ideas but did acknowledge that we disagreed in some areas. Though I probably could have written a stronger letter with more time, I felt extremely honored that I was able to have that opportunity; it was exciting to feel like I had really done something that might have actually (!!) had an impact.
Later, as all the youth convened at the Christ Lutheran Church for lunch, I volunteered to testify at a Senate hearing in which Senators were voting on a bill that would eliminate the MN Environmental Quality Board (which regulates clean air and water). Although I hadn’t previously known about the bill or the Environmental Quality Board, I knew it was something that I would be happy to talk about because it clearly fit in with my overall stance on environmental issues. Following numerous other testifiers, I stepped up to speak next to another student from Eden Prairie High School. I felt like the committee members listened carefully to what we said and that our words had an impact, especially because we were the only two youth that spoke.
As exciting as my personal speaking opportunities were at Lobby Day this year, for me the most meaningful aspect was to be there with the many youth who care about what’s going on in the world and want to make a difference. It’s so empowering for me to know that we all have an impact, and that when young people rise up and allow our voices to be heard, it can be very influential. In many circumstances, it is easy to feel like the impact you have is insignificant, but it is important to remember that every person is capable of putting themselves out there to make the small differences that, in many ways, are the most important. My experiences at Youth Climate Lobby Day 2017 helped me realize this, and have given me confidence and motivation to do more in the future.