Youth Advocacy Day 2017 (YAD), on February 10th, was impactful for youth and legislators alike. This year I had the pleasure of being one of the morning speakers. I voiced my concern about Washington’s overuse of the Valid Court Order exception and how my experiences being detained for running away affected my life. It was empowering to speak in front of over 340 youth and allies. This year was our biggest turnout yet. All of us came together to organize and take our rightful seat at the table with our government. An astonishing 40 meetings with legislators and legislative aides were held where we advocated for Mockingbird’s three lead advocacy priorities: 1) establishing a program to help youth in care overcome the barriers to getting a driver’s license, 2) ending the use of the Valid Court Order (VCO) exception, which is used to detain youth for status offenses. (A status offense is only an offense for a person under age 18, e.g., truancy or running away), and 3) ensure continued funding for the Mockingbird Family Model for the next biennium.
After speaking at the morning program, I moved on to legislative meetings. I met with legislative aides for Senator Joe Fain and Senator Jeannie Darneille. Both meetings went extremely well, garnering supportive comments on at least one bill from each meeting! Once finished, we came together on the Capitol steps to rally in the pouring rain. Legislators spoke to us through megaphones from under umbrellas to encourage our direct advocacy for the youth we represent. Braving the rain in solidarity with us were Senator Hans Zeiger and Representatives Kristine Reeves, Judy Clibborn, Ruth Kagi, Paul Graves, and Noel Frame. After rallying, we marched around the Capital campus chanting catchy rhymes aimed at informing others about our issues. Youth performers from Community Youth Services’ The Bridge Program ended the day with original hip-hop compositions. Then together we enjoyed sandwiches, connected over the day’s experiences, and went our separate ways. Yet another successful Youth Advocacy Day had reached its end!
Every year YAD pairs faces and stories with issues that would otherwise just be data on a piece of paper. Our presence in the Capital helps legislators know the true impact of the legislation that crosses their desks. For example, SB 5241 is a bill that would require school districts to consolidate unfinished course work for foster and homeless youth. During a Senate vote on this bill, Senator Zeiger said “I got to spend some time with foster youth a few weeks ago, (at YAD) here at the Capitol, and they shared some of their challenges as well as some of their hopes…that left a big impression on me — getting to spend the time I did with them. And I thought if there is anything we can do to give them an opportunity for success we should do it.” It’s undeniable that the advocacy efforts from youth on YAD helped get this bill passed unanimously in the state Senate!
We are thankful to all of our legislative speakers and supporters. With the completion of YAD, Mockingbird’s advocacy cycle begins again. As it does we are going to be asking some questions like: what is wrong with the foster care and homeless systems? What stands in the way of homeless youth getting off the streets? What are the major pitfalls of both systems? Mockingbird needs youth to help answer these questions and YAD is just one way to get involved. Across the state there are seven chapters working hard, getting involved, changing perceptions, and making changes throughout the year. At Mockingbird, we’re asking hard questions, establishing true youth-adult partnerships, and allowing youth voices to be heard and their opinions to be valued!