THE BLOG

Youth Empowerment and the State of the Union

02/10/2014 02:47 pm ET | Updated Apr 12, 2014

On January 28, President Obama gave his annual State of the Union address. He used this time to deliver powerful narratives about everyday Americans, address a variety of issues and get a little sassy with Congress. Before the president took the podium, I wrote a piece about why it was so important that young people be involved with the SOTU and be vocal in providing feedback to the president and his administration. In case you missed it, here are some things that I think should be taken away from the State of the Union.

I think probably the most important part of the SOTU was something we can all learn from. President Obama made it very clear that he is not going to wait for Congress to address these issues and encouraged mayors, governors and other officials across the U.S. to do the same. He declared that this should be a year of action, with or without Congressional involvement. Someone was feeling cheeky. That might have something to do with our representatives pushing us to the point of a government shutdown, which cost over 2 billion dollars in productivity alone.

The good news is Congress is likely to be more productive in 2014 than they were in 2013. But don't rely on the Senate and House to make this the "year of action." Young people everywhere can come together to make real, sustainable change this year. Change happens when youth and adults come together to address the issues mentioned in the State of the Union Address.

Climate change is an issue that's widely debated in our society, but President Obama made a bold statement by declaring that the debate is over "Climate change is a fact." While there a many members of Congress who don't believe in climate change, a vast majority of millennials have accepted that a concept which 97 percent of publishing scientists agree is real and it's mostly due to human activity. Millennial movers and shakers have pushed for climate justice, through voicing their concerns on social media and other websites to organizing grassroots campaigns, climate change is a youth's movement. The policies implemented today will determine the issues of tomorrow. Young people have to be given a seat at the table when developing these long term solutions and shaping our future, as well as the future of generations to come. "When our children's children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did." If we want to be able to truly say we did all we could do, we have to include the perspectives and opinions of young people when looking towards the future.

And yet, it goes beyond that. We mustn't just consult young people on developing policies that directly impact our future, but we must also consult them on developing policies that directly impact our present. I'm about to be a college student. Even thinking about the tremendous debt that I am about take on in the name of further education. I want and deserve to have a voice in what's being done to make student loans more accessible and less of a burden. How do I know that I'm receiving the best education possible? The president talked about building partnerships between high schools with colleges and businesses to provide a different take on learning, but I think that the most important partnerships in education are when the students, teacher, and policy makers work together as a team to create an inclusive educational experience.

Another issue that is really going to shape the 2014 as a year of action is bridging the gender gap. There seems to be a lot of debate on whether or not women are treated with the same respect as men. Yet, a bill just passed in the House, a bill that restricts women's healthcare and access to abortion. This bill was developed by an all-male Congressional subcommittee. Fox News held a panel discussing the "War on Women" with the panel consisting of four men. And, as President Obama so eloquently pointed out in his SOTU speech, women still make 77 cents to every dollar that a man does. We must work to empower young women and girls and encourage them to run for office. We cannot say that we do not have a gender equality issue in the United States, when there are male politicians who feel the need to speak on behalf of women, when rape victims are viewed as criminals, when a woman will not earn the same amount of money that a man does for doing the same job. We have to raise our voices, not just as women but as young women looking to create a better future for ourselves and generations to come. It's already working, on average millennial women are making more than our predecessors. Let's build on this momentum and make sure that young women and girls are awarded the same opportunities as the young men and boys they've grown up with.

As we look at these issues, we have to think about how our policies and solutions are contributing to long term global development. President Obama said that we have to give diplomacy a try when considering foreign relations. This is a necessity that will rely heavily on our ability to collaborate on a global scale. Bridging cultural and geographical divides is something that must begin with young people. When youth are introduced to issues and perspectives that exist outside of their hometowns, states and countries, it opens up a world of possibilities and ideas as we begin to build sustainable solutions by working to collaborate on an international scale. I'm so extremely lucky to work with the International Youth Council, an organization that works to provide young people with a global platform to work together to build projects that will help shape a more sustainable future.

President Obama wants 2014 to be a year of action. We have to work to educate, empower and engage young people in the many issues mentioned throughout his State of the Union address. We have to work together to bridge gaps between genders, cultures and generations. Take a page out of President Obama's book and don't wait for permission to make the change you are looking for. Demand that your voice be heard. Don't let anyone tell you that you have to wait until tomorrow to be an agent of change, be a leader of today. Young people have the power, insight and passion to change the world.

Believe it.