- Working with my staff, interns and Youth Advisory Council, I rest a little easier about the torch being passed on to them one day.
July is a time to celebrate America’s birthday, with parades, picnics, backyard barbecues, fireworks, and a recommitment to our democracy. While we may live in the oldest democracy in the world, involving young people has been a hallmark of my legislative and campaign efforts. Experiential learning is the best way to educate and empower young minds to actively participate in our democracy.
Last summer, my Lansing-based legislative team – two full-time staff members and a couple of college interns – launched a Youth Advisory Council, bringing a group of 10 high school students from the district into the political process. The goal: To ensure that young people become lifelong advocates for policy that protects their interests, and ensure that they know what a legislator does – and doesn’t – do. Our college interns and policy fellows get that experience, but I wanted to take it to a more local level.
During my years in America’s public school (in the 1970s), I learned about the three branches of government in our democracy, and the separation of powers between the state and federal governments. Decades later, I got a reprise: watching the Schoolhouse Rock video “I’m Just a Bill” that I had watched as a child, with my two kids. My children and I got involved in school and city issues and contacted elected officials on a number of issues ranging from a millage to ensure our local public library stayed open, to petitioning the school board to address much-needed improvements to a school building, to protesting when our tax dollars were spent on nuclear war and weapons.
Now as a legislator, I have realized how important it is for our government to be open and accessible to all, even those too young to vote. And perhaps especially for those too young to vote, so that they can take action on addressing the issues that we adults are unable or unwilling to address.
I knew that responding to constituents was my number one priority. I was also warned by legislative leadership that I would not be able to pass a bill. After all, I had flipped a seat that Republicans had always held until I came along. So instead, my team and I focused on the district – we organized 80 events in my first term, going virtual when the pandemic hit. I attended events at all the community organizations that I had been involved in prior to my election and added others to the roster, from Rotary Clubs to the local Kiwanis chapter.
In 2019, I went to almost every school – private and public – in the district to meet students, read to them, share my experiences and make government more accessible. It is always fun to see the teens who come during office hours as part of their academic requirements or to field questions from younger students. I love when I receive invitations to speak with student groups focused on specific issues ranging from environmental concerns to the tampon tax and period poverty.
While the pandemic turned us upside down, in 2021, we began the return to in-person events. I am excited for next month: we will be engaging high schoolers with a Women in STEAM town hall and a roundtable discussion hosted by APIA Vote MI on the legislation I have been working on impacting immigrants – especially the documented dreamers, teens who want to improve the dream.
From learning what it means to be “just a bill” as a kid, to teaching all kids about the power of political advocacy, I’m reminded that democracy relies on passing the torch. Earlier this year, I wrote about long-term care needs – which I recognize I may need someday – and that it will likely be my kids and the next generation who will continue advocating for quality care when we no longer can. Because of working with my staff, interns and Youth Advisory Council, I rest a little easier about the torch being passed on to them one day.
I see them learning and growing, and also sharing new perspectives that open up meaningful discussions. From reading to students in local classrooms to holding coffee hours and other events for constituents of all ages, I’ve had many engaging discussions with young people who are ready to join the fight and defend our democracy. As long as that passion continues to be nurtured, I am confident that they will flourish, and we will continue to celebrate our democracy’s perseverance every July.
Padma Kuppa, the State Representative for Michigan’s 41st House District serving her second term, is the Democratic candidate for the Michigan State Senate in District 9. A mother, an engineer from NIT Warangal, and an automotive and IT professional for over 2 decades, and a civic and interfaith leader for years, she is the first Indian immigrant and Hindu in the Michigan state legislature. You can reach her at email@example.com. Learn more at ElectPadmaKuppa.com or kuppa.housedems.com.