Taking their message to D.C.
Four members of Lake Oswego's Youth Leadership Council traveled to Washington, D.C., this month for the group's first-ever trip to the annual National League of Cities conference.
Youth council members Annie Choo, Michael Murray, Jensen Kaelin and Kyle Langford accompanied City Councilors Joe Buck, Jackie Manz and Theresa Kohlhoff to the conference. They were joined by Lake Oswego Sustainability and Management Analyst Jenny Slepian, who serves as the staff coordinator for the youth council.
"It was really inspiring to see all the youth leaders there from around the United States," says Choo, a Lakeridge High School senior who serves as this year's youth council chair. "We're all around the same age, and we're all trying to make the community a better place."
The trip was one of the earliest goals adopted by the youth council after its initial formation in 2016. It was originally suggested by Buck, who had attended past League of Cities conferences and been impressed by the young delegates, and Lake Oswego's youth councilors enthusiastically jumped on the idea.
The group worked on several projects over the past two years aimed at raising funds to send some of its members to a conference. Earlier this year, the councilors organized and hosted a TEDx-style community event called LO Speaks, and Choo says the talk also gave the youth councilors an opportunity to recruit local sponsors for the League of Cities trip.
The delegation arrived in Washington, D.C., on March 11 and returned on March 14. The days in between were packed with League of Cities events, so Slepian says the group did their best to go on a whirlwind tour of the nation's capital in the hours after they landed.
"We got in at 5 p.m. on Sunday," she says, "and then we actually started looking at the monuments at 9 p.m. and did that until about midnight."
That turned out to be the only opportunity for sightseeing; the conference schedule kept the youth delegation busy until 10 p.m. on subsequent nights, Slepian says. The group spent most of the next two days participating in sessions with fellow youth council delegates from cities in Oregon and throughout the country.
"I learned about tax brackets, opportunity zones, the future of marijuana and the opioid crisis, and how to increase infrastructure," says Langford, a junior at Lake Oswego High School. "I was able to meet driven youth from around the country. They were particularly calling for an end to gun violence."
The youth councilors also got a chance to accompany Lake Oswego's city councilors when they sat in on several League of Cities sessions, including one about seismic resilience and another about changes to the judicial system. The conferences included the chance to hear talks from New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and several federal officials, Choo says.
"It was kind of overwhelming," she says, "but it was also really inspiring to see all these leaders that we hear about and we see on the news, but they were right in front of us."
Tuesday's events included visits with Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, who met with Oregon's youth delegation from Lake Oswego and other cities to discuss gun violence in schools and other policy topics.
"Senator Wyden was really open to youth voices," Choo says. "He asked us our views on gun control — what is our opinion on gun control, and what should we do to protect our students?"
"When I questioned (Wyden and Merkley) about the current banking deregulation bill, they said they were both against it and have proposed amendments that would protect American homeowners," Langford adds.
The group also got a chance to listen to a talk on gun violence by Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, and Langford got the opportunity to go backstage and meet him. Langford says he's a supporter of Booker and hopes to see him run for president in 2020, so meeting him was easily the highlight of the trip.
"My heart was pounding and my hands were sweaty because I believe he's going to be the next president of the United States," Langford says. "I was watching his speech, so exhilarated backstage that I could barely contain myself because I was so excited that I was going to meet him."
Langford says the two talked about gun control and fair wage issues, and added that Booker actually recognized Langford's Lake Oswego ID badge, despite the city's small size and far-away location; as it turned out, Booker once played college football alongside a fellow player from Lake Oswego.
On Wednesday morning, Lake Oswego's youth delegates were able to squeeze in a tour of the Capitol before dashing off to the airport for the return flight. Luckily, the entire trip took place during a gap in the series of winter storms that have pummeled the East Coast in recent weeks, burying roads and cancelling flights.
"It was just cold," Slepian says, "but we didn't get any of that nor'easter weather."
The youth council hopes to continue sending delegations to the League of Cities conference in future years, although Slepian says the City may need to work out additional funding mechanisms for the trips. The group can collectively fundraise and seek sponsors, she says, but in the interest of fairness, the City doesn't want individual youth councilors to be responsible for any of their travel costs.
"A lot of the other cities bring their youth councils every other year," Slepian says," just because it gives them a little more time to do the fundraising for it. We'll have to base it on interest and figure out a better strategy for covering the cost."