As part of the environmental activism elective, middle school students had the opportunity to tell our state legislators how they thought they should vote. It was an interesting day in Salem for me and my 7 stalwart eco-warriors, Aidan, Phoenix, Wyatt, Ellery, Ewan, Evan and Nicholas. We traveled to the State Capitol to meet with the Oregon Environmental Council, who was organizing a Lobby Day to encourage the legislature to vote for a couple of bills, including the Clean Energy Jobs Bill and the Cleaner Air Oregon funding bill. Both bills would establish a polluter pay mechanism for large polluters in the State, and provide for more funding for DEQ to help implement environmental policies.
We arrived at the Capitol and gazed at the beautiful rotunda only briefly, as we were led to the Lobby Day room that was filled with adults and high school students busily planning what to say and where to go. We were tasked with giving "Valentines" to legislators on the third floor of the House and Senate wings of the Capitol, with a special emphasis on reaching our Central Oregon legislators. While the Valentines did wish them well, they also included special appeals for our elected officials to vote for Clean Air and to "love" the earth.
Our Cascades Academy students wrote several valentines to deliver to our representatives and senators. Some of them had poems on them, with messages about how important it is to our students that our officials vote for these environmental bills. After writing the valentines, we were led up and down stairs and elevators to various offices. We were greeted by friendly staffers who happily accepted the valentines.
The highlight of our trip through the halls of government was meeting Senator Bentz, who represents Sisters and part of Redmond. At least one of our students lives in his district and we were able to speak with him for over 30 minutes! We were grateful for his time and the students happily gave him the hand-written valentines. He rightfully acknowledged that those valentines came with "a catch" and that we were there to ask for something. Of course we were, and we knew that it was his job to listen to his constituents. Thus, the students had the floor. They were able to ask him questions and tell him how important they thought the clean air and clean energy bills are. Although Senator Bentz artfully dodged several questions, we were able to get some points across to him. We hope that he kept some of the students' thoughts and wishes in his mind, even as he met with industry lobbyists shortly after we left his office.
We were so busy with our Lobby Day agenda that I almost forgot that the experience of being in the State Capitol is an educational one in and of itself. Looking at the "Golden Man" atop the Capitol building, gazing at the beautiful rotunda and its murals, and seeing the busy lobbyists and legislators in the hallways was a great experience for all of us. As a special bonus, we were there on Oregon's 179th Birthday! We were able to see and taste the three cakes made for the occasion, including a beautiful cake with the Oregon State Seal on it. Nicolas showed me that his piece of cake had the "O" for Oregon on it!
Whether Senator Bentz and our other legislators' votes were influenced by the students' presence or not, we know that the students had an impact on them. I have been told by law professors and lobbyists before that, although the youth can't vote and they don't give money to campaigns, they have the moral authority and the politicians listen to their voices. I hope that our students were empowered by the opportunity to speak to our lawmakers, to walk in the hallways of government and to know that they were not there as tourists or students but as constituents with voices that were heard.
~Dr. Eklund, Science Teacher