Before the Committee of the Whole
of the Council of the District of Columbia
Larry T. Pretlow II, President
On behalf of the
DC Chapter of the National Youth Rights Association
Reforming the Youth Advisory Council
July 10, 2010
First of all, thank you to Chairman Gray and the Council for holding this hearing and inviting the youth of the city to come and share their views on issues that affect us all. As President of the DC Chapter of the National Youth Rights Association I understand all too well the difficulties young people have in being heard and being taken seriously. This is a wonderful opportunity and I thank the Council for extending this invitation to the youth of the city.
As we have seen so far here today, young people have many views, many needs, and many desires from their elected officials. Too often issues affecting young people are decided without their input or involvement. Often without them even knowing what is going on until it is too late. This hearing is a wonderful opportunity not just for young people to express themselves, but for the DC City Council to understand the desires of this very important part of their constituency.
This idea of young people sharing their concerns with the council is so great, I’d like to see it happen more often than every few years. DC needs a permanent avenue for soliciting the opinions of young residents and for giving them direct influence over the laws and rules that govern their lives. Giving young people a permanent place within city government will benefit DC youth and DC government alike.
Since 2002 DC has had a Youth Advisory Council. Some of our members have served on this council and it serves an important function, however there are several structural reasons that prevent the Youth Advisory Council from doing the most amount of good for the city and for our youth. If the DC Youth Advisory Council is to be a credible representative of our city’s youth, it needs to be able to speak freely and independently. As it is currently housed within the mayor’s office, YAC is currently unable to do this. Pressure has been placed on the YAC to prevent it from speaking out against the mayor or his policies. As long as the YAC continues to be under the power of the mayor’s office it will never be able to speak freely or be a true voice for youth. Therefore NYRA-DC strongly urges that the Youth Advisory Council be made independent of the mayor’s office.
I am concerned also whether the Youth Advisory Council is truly representing the needs and wishes of the District’s youth. Many youth are not even aware of the Youth Advisory Council and fewer yet regularly communicate with their representatives on the Council. I myself am running for ANC commissioner in Ward 8 and know that there is nothing that connects a representative to the people better than running for office and campaigning for votes. To make the YAC truly representative of DC’s youth, NYRA-DC strongly urges that Youth Advisory Council members be elected once a year by DC students, the elections could be administered by DC’s high schools.
Finally, there is nothing more dis-empowering than to be promised an opportunity to be heard, express your views, and impact the lives of District residents and then be ignored. As you can see here today there are many youth who have opinions about DC laws because so many of DC laws affect them. To truly be given an opportunity to represent the interests of youth, the Youth Advisory Council must be given real, substantive decision making ability on the DC City Council. Unlike other DC residents, young people under 18 cannot vote for the Mayor, cannot vote for the Council, cannot vote for ANC, or any other office in the city. They are taxed, but are not represented. To ensure the Youth Advisory Council is fully able to represent our youth, NYRA-DC strongly urges that the YAC be given one vote on the DC City Council.
Our city knows what it is like to not control its destiny. Our city knows what it is like to face taxation without representation. Our city knows what it is like to have a non-voting delegate. Please do not disenfranchise young people the way that DC is itself disenfranchised. Please do the right thing and give our youth a real voice, a real say, and a real vote. Thank you.
Larry T. Pretlow II
National Youth Rights Association of the Greater Washington, DC Area