Connecting to a New Generation: Oregon Innovation Award Update

Josie Savaria-Watson
Fri, 08/28/2015 - 1:49pm

Josie is a rising Junior at Lincoln High School in Portland, Oregon. She’s spent her summer exploring Oregon with her family and friends and volunteering with 1000 Friends of Oregon. Working on the Oregon Innovation Award with Sam Diaz, our Community Engagement Coordinator, Josie brings insight into meaningful youth engagement. Read more.

Goal 1 in Oregon’s Statewide Planning Goals & Guidelines calls for a “citizen-involvement program that ensures the opportunity for citizens to be involved in all phases of the land use planning process.” The problem, we see now, is that underrepresented communities are unable to access decision-makers who will have real impact in these individual's lives. Initiatives and decisions are being made every day, and are lacking the input of people who have a unique and relevant perspective but may not know, or are unable, to share it. As a Junior in high school, I see this happening especially with young people.

Youth are underrepresented from both sides. On one side, I think young people feel like their opinions hold very little weight in the "Adult World", so they're less inclined to share them. Speaking in a room full of adults who have significantly more experience then you and could probably disprove everything one says is very intimidating and unappealing. Beyond that, I think political issues feel very distant to younger people. There's no immediate gratification in regional government, and very little sense that one is initiating real change. It's a lot easier to focus on one's own life and immediate problems, like school and stress, then exerting one's self into a project that they might not even see come to fruition. Thus, younger people aren't represented simply because they aren't involving themselves. 

On the other side, I feel like politicians and decision-makers tend to skip over youth for their lack of voting power and the general consensus that high school students are too immature to really understand politics and social issues. For a politician, there is very little benefit to involving young people during a campaign, because no matter how much a young person can agree with a political platform, they still cannot vote. 

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Josie speaking during an Oregon Innovation Award Brainstorm Session

I believe young people deserve to have a voice in future projects. High school students and college students will be alive to deal with the outcomes of all laws and initiatives. Also, young people can have fresh, innovative ideas that could be written off simply because of our age. Finally, when people fail to participate in government when they're young, they form a habit that will continue until they are well past voting age. In our democratic government, the voice of the people is the best weapon against tyranny, and I see fewer and fewer people are using their voice. Cultivating a culture of political participation in young people is the best investment in the future that can be made.

I was on the Lincoln High School Constitution Team, so I spent a year learning all about federal government, democracy, our Bill of Rights, and the importance of local government. For all that, I never actually participated in a local government or was aware of a regional government entity until now. Considering I got a better education in government then most of my friends, this is daunting to realize.

Young people have valid points that could cause a lot of good change in the world. However, it's rare for someone young to actually make it into a position where their voice has any real effect on a political initiative, despite these initiatives having a great effect on their futures. Hopefully, this project will help change that. Young people deserve to have a voice in these conversations, and this project can give them a seat at the table.

The time is now. Land use has never been more important in Oregon considering Portland's booming population and the rising effects of climate change. Considering the fact that young people will be the ones alive to deal with the consequences of these things in 50 years, allowing their input to have a greater impact helps everyone.