By Samantha Levra
Community Engagement Coordinator
Elected officials make decisions that impact every single person in this country. For Green Dot students these decisions can affect their safety, health, and education. To ensure that lawmakers consider their input, students at Ánimo Watts College Preparatory Academy asked me to support them in hosting a Call your Representative Day. For these students, this was an opportunity to show their fellow classmates and community that their voices matter, and that they can bring about change through community organizing.
Let Your Voices Be Heard
Students made dozens of calls to elected officials and completed over 50 well-written and thoughtful letters about policy issues that concerned them. Some of the issues cited by students were safer neighborhoods, immigration reform, environmental justice, affordable housing, women’s rights, and homelessness. Students contacted Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office, Representative Maxine Waters (CA-43), and several other officials at the federal, state, and local levels of government. Although students sent out dozens of articulate and heartfelt letters about the most pressing issues in their lives, the letter of one particular student to Senator Kamala Harris resonated deeply with me:
“I urge you to support immigration. It will impact me greatly because my father, who is a great part of my life, is an immigrant. I care because there are days that my dad has talks with me about what he wants me to do if he gets deported. Every time this happens I can’t bear to think about it. I would be very grateful if you had a say in this topic because I want to stay with my father. Thank you for your hard work!”
Unfortunately this is a reality for many of our students, a constant fear that hovers above their heads and impedes their quality of life. Regardless of whether or not a student is eligible to vote, they have the right to be heard by decision-makers.
Students are the experts in reporting their own lived experiences and have a deep insight into the issues that affect their communities. Unfortunately, people often feel small and impotent in the system of government-- even disenfranchised and helpless. But we try to help students understand that everyone's voice is important as elected officials have a responsibility to listen to the concerns of all of their constituents. I was honored when the students at Ánimo Watts asked for my support--it demonstrated their eagerness to apply their knowledge, educate their peers and families, and try to move the needle on key issues. United Parents and Students and Green Dot’s collaboration helps teach students and their families how to become civically engaged and get the results they deserve. The work I do excites me because I have the opportunity to witness our students are so enthused about creating change. I’m able to see them grow and look outside themselves to better the lives of others.
It is a core part of Green Dot’s mission for students to know their rights, to understand the importance of voting, and to graduate from our schools with a concrete understanding of the systems and structures that affect their daily lives.