Youth in Policy: Civics2

PROVIDENCE, RI—Youth civic engagement takes many forms, from volunteering in a soup kitchen to starting a nonprofit organization to the Fall of 2011 "Occupy" movement. Our nation’s young people are much more civic-minded than tags like “Generation Me” suggest—and increasingly more vocal.

For the 2008 Presidential Election, WKCD hired the young journalists at the youth-led news bureau Y-Press to produce a series of articles, media pieces, and resources that followed the involvement of youth from the 2008 primary season through the fall election. We called it "Youth on the Trail." Y-Press will do the same for the 2012 Presidential Election.

Here we provide several feature stories and case studies by WKCD that showcase young people raising their voices around local issues, from pushing a school district to prepare all students for college to fighting cuts in public transportation. We also share a collection of articles and profiles by the youth-led news bureau Y-Press that address youth participation nationwide, in policy arenas such as the environment, health care, and public education.

In 2010, our work in this area prompted us to launch a new website called The Center for Youth Policy and Practice @ WKCD.


Our Schools, Our Future: San Francisco Youth Campaign for Equitable College Access
It’s lunchtime at Balboa High School, once one of San Francisco’s most troubled schools but now on the rebound. Twenty-five students grab a sandwich and a seat, in good spirits on one of the last days of school. They are all members of Youth Making a Change (YMAC), a veteran youth organizing program in San Francisco. In six hours, the San Francisco Board of Education will vote on a policy these students have fought for all year long: to make the “A through G” course curriculum, required for admission to California’s state universities and colleges, the default curriculum for all students in the San Francisco Unified School District.

Political Power: Chicago’s Mikva Challenge Gets Youth Involved in Politics, Policymaking 
A few days after Barack Obama’s election, a group of Chicago youth gathers on the campus of DePaul University, excitedly discussing their plans to improve the city’s policies toward youth violence. They are not a college activist organization—rather, these high schoolers are part of the Mikva Challenge’s Youth Safety Council, an initiative designed to give Chicago’s teens a voice in a policy discussion that profoundly impacts their daily lives.

Saving “RIPTA”: Rhode Island Youth Battle Cuts in the State’s Public Transit System
When the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) announced that it faced a $10.5 million deficit and would need to eliminate routes, end bus services after 7 pm, and hike fares, a group of Providence, RI high school students decided to stand up. As members of a newly formed “media team” at Youth In Action (YIA), an after school youth organizing program in Providence, they wanted to use media to bring public attention to “The RIPTA Crisis”—which at the time seemed to be passing below the public radar screen.


Worth Fighting For: Youth Activism and the Arts (March 2010) 
In Des Moines, Iowa, music venues are not allowed to hold all-ages music events after 9 p.m. That has not sat well with under-21 activists who have been working with city officials to change the code so that music venues are more available to local youth. Young people nationwide are following suit. In schools and local communities, they are fighting to keep arts programs alive, a difficult task in an economic recession.

Shifting Perspectives: Youth Activism and Immigration (February 2010) 
For 10 years, immigration has been a contentious issue in the United States. In the early part of the decade, the Bush administration was prepared to offer mass amnesty to illegal immigrants. As governor of Texas he’d long been friendly with Mexico, and both he and then-Mexican President Vincente Fox supported a big amnesty and guest worker program. On Sept. 11, 2001, all of that changed—and so has youth activism around immigration.

Youth and Health: Public Discussions, Private Decisions (October 2009)
Of all the topics of interst to young people, perhaps health is the most personal. Engaging in sexual activity or substance abuse are choices one makes privately—so are decisions regarding body weight, nutrition, and depression. Youth activism on behalf of health is low. Studies find that only 8.5 percent of young adults ages 16 - 24 volunteer on health issues, versus 31 percent on educational issues and 31 percent on religious matters.

Religion, Service, and Activism: Youth and Faith (September 2009)
Faith-based youth activism is a growing force in the U.S. It can be strictly evangelistic, or it can involve reaching out to local venues like soup kitchens and summer camps. Some youth teach Sunday school or provide child care at their places of worship; others travel to distant parts of the world to lend a hand. Despite an already large following, faith-based youth activism is on the rise—thanks to social-networking technology and interfaith cooperation.

Having a Say: Youth and Educational Activism (July 2009) 
Ever since school was made compulsory for American children in the early 20th century, efforts at reform rarely included input from youth. But that is changing, as policymakers are beginning to value the opinions of youth, and as youth themselves have realized their collective power through new networking media. Ten years ago, it was hard for young people, or adults even, to know whom to lobby, to find which elected officials, let alone to figure out how to contact them.

The Clock Is Ticking: Youth and Environmental Activism (June 2009)
Young people have a unique relationship with the environment. They are often the first affected when something goes wrong, yet the least represented when decisions are made. They, more than any other generation, have been raised to feel a responsibility toward the environment.


Kids on the Wire

Shout Outs



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“There’s a radical—and wonderful—new idea here… that all children could and should be inventors of their own theories, critics of other people’s ideas, analyzers of evidence, and makers of their own personal marks on the world.”

– Deborah Meier, educator