For one weekend each January, Olympia’s Capitol campus is especially busy. Just over 20 days into the legislative session, it becomes filled with students from around the state of Washington – students who are involved in community groups and passionate about making change. These young people are there to learn about key issues facing the legislature and to speak with state lawmakers about policy.
These students are a part of Youth Action Day. This is an annual event facilitated by Washington’s Legislative Youth Advisory Council (LYAC), a 22-member council of students from across the state who serve as a link between young people and state government. “We give workshops on a range of topics, such as effective communication with legislators and the McCleary decision, as well as discussion forums to collaborate on solutions to issues we see in our communities,” says Willa Jeffers, LYAC’s Chair. “The next day, we have meetings with as many legislators as possible and advocate for pieces of legislation that we support as a council.”
For LYAC members, Action Day is an opportunity to teach others about the democratic process and connect student groups with policymakers. For those in attendance, it’s a platform to speak up about issues that affect their communities. Heather Phipps, LYAC’s public relations director, explains that the event is all about providing “the tools that enable them [student groups] to speak with legislators and be civically engaged. During Action Day, LYAC is bridging the gap between community and legislation through civic engagement.”
This year, Youth Action Day took place on January 29 and 30. Over 100 students from various community groups were in attendance, lobbying for relevant bills. LYAC itself also sponsored and lobbied for bills that fell under LYAC’s three areas of priority: youth health, youth justice and education reform.
Planning Action Day is a yearlong event for LYAC, both Phipps and Jeffers confirm. “It’s sort of the pinnacle of what LYAC does,” says Phipps. “Even as we’re coordinating all our other events throughout the year, it’s always in the back of our minds.” Jeffers describes planning the event as “an uphill battle of sorts,” noting that LYAC is responsible for scheduling meetings with up to 70 legislators, booking speakers and providing food and accommodations for student groups from around the state.
But this planning is a labor of love for LYAC members. These are students whose passion for politics drives them to pursue real legislative change while they are still students, and allows them to organize this event every year. “The members of LYAC are so passionate about the issues they are advocating for and I could not be prouder of them,” says Jeffers.
On the Capitol campus during Action Day, LYAC’s efforts visibly pay off. The 22 council members work full days, guiding Action Day attendees between hearing rooms and facilitating their meetings with legislators. LYAC itself also meets independently with legislators to advocate for bills that have the council’s support. Over the space of a weekend, this incredible event provides a mouthpiece for the youth of Washington state directly to the legislature. “Action Day encompasses all of LYAC’s goals,” says Phipps. It is an opportunity and an outlet – a youth-led forum where students can come together, voice opinions and practice active participation in democracy.
In addition to her love for the event itself, Phipps also has warm words for her fellow council members. Members of LYAC, she says, are “the overachievers – students that work hard and want to do what’s right even when it’s not popular. That passion, which you see in members from all across the state, is what makes LYAC so enduring, so wonderful.”
“Everyone is so smart, too,” Phipps laughs. “But apart from that, it’s people that are just committed to working hard to make a difference. They understand that having their voices heard is one of the most important things we can do. The people that make up LYAC are what keep me coming back year after year.” This is Phipp’s third year on the council and Action Day involvement. Both she and Jeffers believe that Action Day will continue to reach more and more youth each year as it gains traction and funding.
For more information on the Washington State Legislative Youth Advisory Council, visit them online. You can find more information on Action Day online along with the opportunity to apply to be an ambassador group.