The first California Audubon youth-led advocacy event took place this May with Richardson Bay Audubon Center’s Audubon Youth Leaders. As part of my role as the Community Conservation Fellow, I mentored these students over the course of a month and a half on how to advocate on the environmental and community issues they were affected by.
I began this fellowship with a vague idea of what political advocacy entailed and no policy experience under my belt. The idea of leading a youth advocacy event as part of my fellowship seemed like a daunting task I had no idea how to tackle. This feeling dwindled gradually as I shadowed advocacy meetings, received training from staff members, and got to know the young students I would be partnering with for this event.
After spending 8 months meeting weekly with the Audubon Youth Leaders high school interns, I gained a sense of what environmental issues they were interested in advocating for and selected bills based on those interests. We narrowed down the list of potential bills to 5 that they were most interested in.
The students divided themselves groups based on the bills they connected with most and dived into researching. They developed both factual talking points to explain the importance of the bills and also personal talking points to explain how these bills would affect their own lives. We rehearsed their talking points together to present to the representative’s offices and provided peer feedback.
Once they felt ready, we jumped into our Zoom meetings with Senator McGuire and Assemblymember Levine’s offices. The students spoke eloquently and communicated their concerns effectively. The offices were happy to take their comments into consideration regarding the bills they selected.
Through this experience, I learned not only about what advocacy is and the art of advocating to legislators, but also more about community issues young people care about in our area. For example, they were very interested in improving public transportation whether that is through school buses (SB-878 School Transportation) or free youth bus passes (AB-1919 Youth Transit Pass Pilot Program). Many of them struggle with traffic, not having reliable transportation to go to school, high gas prices, and are passionate about the negative effects of climate change resulting from car emissions. Others were passionate about replacing coastal invasive plants like ice plant with native plants (SB-1077 Coastal resources: nonnative plants: removal and restoration) because they see so many harmful invasive plants on their local trails and beaches. This experience allowed me to engage more with my local community and learn about the environmental issues that affect the youth while advocating to political leaders who will be able to bring the change we need to see.