I lobbied on Monday.
That may not seem like much, seeing as hundreds of people did the same thing on the exact same day. But seeing as I’m a student at a university, for some, it might be a big thing indeed. I was there with 59 other Western Washington University students who met with more than 60% percent of the legislature to talk about higher education affordability and access, including supporting new revenue, lowering tuition, and the Washington DREAM Act.
It was a very positive experience for these students, and will hopefully grow into greater engagement. Whatever happens, though, it is a contradiction to the mantra that students are apathetic, that they don’t care about the world beyond them.
From one of the many, many organizing sessions I’ve been to, there’s a saying: people aren’t apathetic, they’ve just become alienated and disempowered by our legislative process. They feel like even if they do become involved, the political situation doesn’t change, and students still get shafted. But we’re trying to change that.
It first happened this year with the largest youth-focused voter registration drive in the state, with more than 15% of Western’s student body alone being registered to vote, many for the first time; we had even more ballots than people we registered returned at our on-campus ballot box. We’re continuing with what has started off as a strong legislative engagement program; it will grow and continue to evolve organically as more students get involved and take ownership of this struggle. Students are being shown that a difference can be made, that we can erase this sense of alienation and take control of our future sooner, rather than later, when the mistakes made by attacking our shared society may be too great to fix.
That also requires the legislature to listen. Nobody wants to be seen as anti-student, but actions speak louder than words. More than 1.4 billion dollars have been cut from Washington’s higher education system, resulting in tuition increases that have put some of the ways we pay for higher education in jeopardy. Increases in financial aid don’t help the neediest like some like to think, instead deterring students, not just because of debt, but also because every piece of paper is an obstacle to receiving an education.
Students want to cut through the excuses and see their opportunities for education expanded, not closed. And students are tired of excuses. Students might be alienated, they might feel disempowered, but they’re definitely not apathetic. Monday, at the very least, has shown that.
So, Olympia, be prepared to hear a lot from the yet-to-get-a-college-degree crowd, lest the group already with theirs continue to make it harder for us (and those after us) to get ours.
In fact, let’s call it a “hello”.