As a ten-year-old kid in Seattle, I was already interested in politics. My friends and I marched around the playground protesting the Iraq War, and I wrote letters to my representatives in the state legislature and Congress on issues I was passionate about. However, I quickly found that many of these elected officials and other adults in power didn’t value youth voice and patronizingly dismissed my opinions simply because of my age. I was upset and wanted to do something about it.

I wrote to my state senator, Ken Jacobsen, and presented him with a petition signed by hundreds of elementary school students asking for a mechanism for youth to have a voice in the Washington State government. Miraculously, he was open to the idea! I met with him and his staff, who had done some research and found that a few other states had recently created youth councils to advise the state legislature on issues of importance to youth. In the next legislative session, he introduced a bill to create a Washington State Legislative Youth Advisory Council.

Senator Jacobsen warned me not to get my hopes up, as it can often take years if not decades to get new policies through the legislature. But over the next few months, I went back and forth to Olympia, testifying at committee hearings and meeting with key legislators. Along the way I met extraordinary adults like Greg Williamson, Adam Fletcher, and Judi Best, who helped make the case to elected officials that youth needed real representation in state government.

Eventually, the bill passed the legislature, although at the last minute a member of the House of Representatives added an amendment that created a minimum age limit of 14, excluding me from the Council as I was 12 at the time. I was disappointed but knew that simply creating this body was a huge step that would have a major impact on youth across the state.

At the beginning of this process I thought I was relatively alone in the fight for youth voice, but over the course of that legislative session and the next few years I discovered and became involved in the burgeoning youth rights movement and NYRA. In high school, NYRA’s movement to lower the voting age inspired me and a group of other young people to push for lowering the voting age in Washington State school board elections. Although the effort was unsuccessful, I learned the importance of making coalitions across the diverse array of youth and adult allies to achieve real policy outcomes.

I’m now working as a transportation planner in San Francisco, but my experience pushing for youth rights and representation still has an impact on me today. Youth are some of the people most directly impacted by transportation planning decisions, yet they are often forgotten or even intentionally left out of the discussion and excluded from new transportation innovations. While I’m no longer actively involved in the youth rights movement, it remains important to me that young people get the respect they deserve in our society and particularly in our governmental institutions.

Alex Jonlin

NYRA-Seattle chapter leader

Alex Jonlin, 12, advocating for youth voice in Washington State
Alex Jonlin, 12, advocating for youth voice in Washington State

Alex Jonlin, in 2018, speaking to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board
Alex Jonlin, in 2018, speaking to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board

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