Hannah Mery from San Antonio, Texas, served as a House Page during the summer and fall of 2010. She says the government always seemed to her to be a very elite, exclusive system, but being a Page made her feel that wasn't entirely the case. "There were Pages from all social classes in the program, making us feel that the government was accessible to everyone," she says.
House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi announced last week that the almost 200-year-old tradition of the U.S. House of Representative Page Program will be terminated at the end of the month due to budget cuts and the improvements in technology.
"To say that it can't continue due to budget cuts is just a punch to our face," says 17-year-old Rocio Ortega, a high school senior from East Los Angeles, who served as a Page in Washington, DC last summer for the 111th Congress. Rocio says that being a Page was the best experience of her life.
"Patriotism was alive there and for me. To attend as a resident from 99 percent Latino-populated East Los Angeles and coming from a low-income family, it really opened my eyes and gave me the urge to want to better my community and run for office one day," she told me in an interview. "It's just unfair and heartbreaking knowing thousands of kids will not have the opportunity I had," she said.
Ed Zhou from Poughkeepsie, New York (L) with Rocio Ortega from Los Angeles, California (R). "We always hear 'invest in our youth, they're the future.' As cliché as it may sound, it's the truth. The older generations need to invest in us," says Rocio.
The House of Representatives Page Program is an ideal way for young people to learn about the legislative process. In fact, a good number of current members of Congress began their careers as Pages on the House floor, including Representative John D. Dingell (D - MI); Representative Ander Crenshaw (R - FL); Representative Dan Boren (OK-2); and Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ), as well as other influential cultural and business leaders, including Bill Gates.
"There is no other experience in the world where a 16- or 17-year-old can go to school in the Library of Congress in the morning and work on the House floor in the afternoon," says Andrea Walton, a senior at Princeton Community High School in Princeton, Indiana. Andrea served as a Page with Rocio last summer. "In my opinion, the Page Program is the greatest opportunity available to high school students today. It's an incredible chance to learn about how the United States government works, as well as to learn about yourself," she said in an interview with me.
Andrea Walton with Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D - IL). "Seeing Congresswoman Schakowsky speak out every day for what she believes in really inspired me to follow in her footsteps," says Andrea.
Did you notice there were no women in my list above? That's because I couldn't find them. It turns out that it wasn't until the 1970s that women were permitted to serve as Pages. I learned that this year, however, there were more young women than young men in the Page program. All the more reason for this program to continue.
So what are these former female Pages doing to keep the Page Program alive?
Rocio, Andrea, Hannah and other former Pages are coming together and using social media and traditional media to protest the termination and spread the word on why the program should continue. They are encouraging individuals to sign a petition to Congress, as well as send a letter to their Member of Congress. "We are all coming together to keep this program. Old and new Pages, from all the way to the 1980's and before!" says Rocio.
"They're killing an opportunity for future generations to say 'I want to run for office one day; the US Page program inspired me.'" - Rocio Ortega
Rocio says that working on Capitol Hill and wearing her U.S. House Page uniform has inspired her to run for office one day. "When I wore that Page uniform, I felt important, like I was doing my duty for my country," she says. "I was representing the few Latino students who wish they could have an opportunity like this."
Rocio is the first in her family to visit Washington, DC and be a U.S. House Page; she is the first in her 99 percent Latino high school to be a U.S. House Page; and she is the first in her community to be a U.S. House Page. "I would love to see younger generations attend this program because it has definitely opened my eyes and I am now aware that there's a better world out there," says Rocio.
To become a part of the Save the Page Program movement, click here.
To sign the Save the Page Program petition, click here.
To stay updated on the status of the program, click here.
Photo 1 - courtesy of Hannah Mery
Photo 2 - courtesy of Rocio Ortega
Photo 3 - courtesy of Andrea Walton