The other day I met a group of extremely inspiring young adults from around the state who – after five days in Sacramento learning about state government – now know more about how government works, or should work, than do most Californians. These 4-H members were in Sacramento for their annual California Focus conference and had invited me to tell them about California Forward.
While I was with them, their newly elected “Governor” announced his signings and vetoes of legislation his peers had authored. Governor John signed a bill to create a new water treatment facility on the coast, paid for with bonds. He vetoed a bill to give new businesses in California a six percent tax cut if they promise to stay in the state for 10 years because he thought the tax cut should be closer to 50 percent.
I also heard about “Plans of Action” the young people had drafted for addressing problems in their communities – from feeding malnourished kids to spending time with neglected seniors.
While we ate lunch, I had a chance to get to know some of these young people. One young woman told me how her experience traveling in China had changed her views on environmental regulations in the U.S. Another told me that she credited the public speaking and interviewing skills she’d learned by participating in 4-H with winning her a summer job in her hometown of Susanville. Another told me about the rabbits, sheep and horse she raises on her family’s property in San Luis Obispo.
I began my presentation by showing California Forward’s Force for Change video, which cites California’s overcrowded classrooms, the 1 in 3 high school students who don’t graduate with their peers, and LA’s notoriously smoggy sunsets as some of the problems plaguing California. Then I asked the young people how many of them have over 20 students in their high school classes; all but the home-schooled students raised their hands. “Over 30?” I asked, “Over 35?” More than half of the room still had their hands in the air. “How many of you have a friend who has asthma?” Two-thirds of the hands went up. “How many of you know of someone who has dropped out of high school?” I was surprised that at least 35 of the 70 people in the room had their hands in the air.
I mentioned that even though these problems might not seem like they have anything to do with government, that government plays a role in funding schools, that it lays off teachers when it doesn’t have enough to pay them, and that it monitors and enforces air quality standards. I briefly explained how the state’s budget process – which fails to ensure that public spending achieves public goals – contributes to these poor public outcomes. I described how California Forward is working to fix this and other problems, with the ultimate goal of a state that can achieve the results we all want – safe streets, good schools, a clean environment.
I also discussed how there is neglect on the part of Californians – it is easy to forget that our government is us, and that a democracy is only as strong as we make it. I praised the young people for the initiative they are taking to make life better in their communities through their Plans of Action. And I challenged them not to give up if they face obstacles.
In closing, I invited the youth to create short videos about their Plans of Action to improve their communities, and to post those videos at CAForward.TV so other Californians could feel the same inspiration I felt by learning about the dedication they have to making our state better a better place.
I left the event with the realization that not only are these young people the future leaders of our state, but that they have a powerful role to play today in leading our state to a better future.
Kate Martin is a millennial who works as a project support supervisor at California Forward.