Have you ever been to the Minnesota State Capitol? Have you ever visited your state senator or representative at his/her office? Would you know what to say when you got there?
On Tuesday, March 21, more than 600 young people from across the state took part in Youth Day at the Capitol 2017 (YDAC), an event designed to get young people talking to legislators about issues that are important to them. Click here to see the highlights! YDAC is designed to help young people understand that in a representative democracy, elected officials work for the people, including young people. Our goal: to engage, empower and connect youth to participate in the political process by giving them the information and skills needed to successfully interact with their local elected officials. Why? Because meeting with your elected officials is one of the most effective ways that you can influence the policies that affect your life, school and community. Elected officials are more likely to support positions that their constituents feel strongly about, and there is no better way to display your passion for an issue then by taking the time to have a face-to-face meeting.
Getting People to the Capitol
However, very few people ever take the opportunity to meet with their elected officials. Recently the National Research Center (NRC), a firm that conducts citizen surveys for more than 200 communities, compiled data for Governing shedding light on the types of residents who are most active. Overall, only 19 percent of Americans recently surveyed contacted their local elected officials over a 12-month period. The data also identified types of residents who are the most active or, in some cases, the least vocal. Individuals living in a community for more than 10 years, for example, are about three times more likely to attend public meetings and contact elected officials than new residents. Among racial groups, Asians tend to have the lowest participation rates. Low-income residents also aren’t as active as those earning six-figure incomes. Survey data further suggests that younger residents aren’t inclined to speak up. Those under the age of 35 attend meetings and contact elected officials at far lower rates than those over 35.
Many residents don’t think they have time to participate. Others may not know where or how to get involved. Still others may feel intimidated because they don’t know much about the legislative process.
That’s why Youth Day at the Capitol is so important. Young people get the opportunity to understand how our government works and to practice sharing their voice with elected officials. They get to experience first hand one of the most important rights of citizenship — the right to participate in governing our nation.
Tips for Success
Before sending the young people off to meet with their legislators, we provided a short, interactive training to help them think through and practice what to say in their legislative meeting. These tips work whether you are 15 or 50, and are simple enough to remember because they pretty much fall under the category of good manners.
- Don’t forget to say who you are and where you live. There is nothing a legislator likes more than to hear the words, “My name is Amy and I live in your district.”
- The staff are just as important as the legislator, so greet them warmly and sincerely. Like in many other professional settings, staff are often the ones who keep things moving at the Legislature.
- Tell a personal story — what are the most important things to you and your community?
- Ask how you can help the legislator build support for your issue.
- Be polite and kind. Give your legislator every reason to like you and be sympathetic to your issue.
Learning Civics by Doing Civics
By the time they are in high school, most Minnesota youth have learned the definition of representative democracy. But very few understand what the term really means. And even fewer have taken steps to actively participate in the process. The fact is, participation in government is in everyone’s own self-interest. And once you’ve participated successfully, you are far more likely to participate again. Our hope is that by engaging, empowering and connecting youth at YDAC, we are creating in them a habit of ongoing, effective participation in our democracy.
Tell us about a time you talked with an elected official. How did it go? What was the outcome? Would you do it again? Why or why not?