In honor of the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood organized a lobbying event to protect women's reproductive rights and invited a multitude of women, including me (a 17-year-old student).
When the day of the event finally arrived and I walked into the conference room, I expected to see a swarm of eager students. Instead, much to my dismay, all I could see was a pack of middle-aged and elderly women lightly sprinkled with college students. This was nothing compared to the sea of student activists I had expected to see. Throughout the most recent election we heard a lot about "the youth vote" and winning over "the young voter," yet where were these young voters now? Did they just disappear after the election, casting away any political responsibilities they had because Election Day was over? Or were they at home reading up in preparation for the next election? Regardless, they were certainly nowhere to be seen at this event.
The day began with a breakfast and a brief tutorial of the lobbying process by Planned Parenthood staff. Then, we lobbyists set off for meetings in small groups with our representatives. Our goal was to win support for five bills that would protect women's reproductive rights and opposition for the Women's Right to Know bill. My group and I had two meetings: one with Senator Cynthia Creem and one with Representative Alice Piesch. The meetings could not have gone better. In both cases, we met with aides instead of the representatives themselves. Nonetheless, both aides assured us that Senator Creem and Representative Piesch would wholeheartedly support all the legislation we brought before them.
Despite the positive reception from our representatives, we learned that many of these bills have been re-filed. This means that they have already been presented but failed before. Now, they are being a viewed a second, third, even fourth time. How could this be when we received such a positive response from both government officials? How could this be given the Senator's aide's promise that our current state senate is "very progressive and pro-choice?" When we posed this question to Senator Creem's aide, she mentioned the influence of the media. To paraphrase, she said that the ideas that government officials have heard through the media have influenced not just what the representatives themselves believe, but their ideas of what the people believe.
But the government is supposed to be led by us. It's officials representing our beliefs. Therefore, the ideas the media throws around should be irrelevant. It is the ideas that all of us, the people, believe that should matter.
How can government officials know what we believe, and that the media frenzy often does not influence us, if we don't inform them? As much as we enjoy blaming politicians and their apparent ineptness to push legislation through, in this case, I believe the blame falls on us. It is our job and our duty to communicate to the people who represent us what we believe. Once we, as citizens, step up and vocalize what we want from our government, we can better expect to see our wants come to fruition.
And, as much as we'd like to, the "student generation," of which I am a member, can no longer pass the buck and leave this activism to our parents. My generation complains all the time that the government is serving the needs of an older generation instead of our own. It's easy for us to whine and complain and place the blame on all the other voters and politicians, but it's high time we accept our role and understand that it is our fault, as well.
The reason that Washington appears to only serve the interests of an outdated generation is because these old-timers seem to be the only people leading the little activism that does occur. If we want the government and the country to follow our beliefs, then students like me need to get active and involved in these events. As President Obama stated in his Second Inaugural Address, "You and I as citizens have the power to set this country's course."
Indeed, it is us who can, and must, start speaking out to lead this country's course.