Media Room

YMCA Youth and Government Remarks

February 16, 2017

Thank you, Arika.
Good afternoon, Mr. Speaker, Mr. President, and honorable members and guests of the Opening Joint Session of the YMCA Youth & Government.
Thank you for allowing me to welcome you today.
I can’t tell you how much being here with you brings me joy. I have such hope for our state and nation when I see smart, energetic, and compassionate young people examining our society’s problems and choosing to work together to tackle them.
When I first entered public service work as an attorney practicing family law, it was to give voice to the voiceless. I worked with families who were grappling with domestic violence, child custody, juvenile delinquency, and addiction.
Families were trying to navigate various government systems and processes that they had no ability to improve or shape. I wanted to be a voice for those who are underrepresented in the policy-making process.

Perhaps many of you enter public service with the same goal in mind. Give voice to the voiceless.
If so, I ask you to look around this chamber and ask “Who is in this room, and who isn’t?” Think about that for a moment.
It is a small question with big implications. You are responsible for representing all of your constituents, and it is incumbent upon you to reach out to people who think differently than you, grew up in situations unfamiliar to you, or who prioritize different values. This work is not about always agreeing with people, but about listening to as many voices as possible, and about taking into consideration their different viewpoints before making a decision.
Part of your job will be to seek out people who feel disenfranchised or oppressed; people who feel that they don’t have the power or access to make a difference. The role we have as elected officials and as leaders is a privilege, and we must do everything we can to uphold the civil and human rights of all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, zip code, gender identity, disability, or immigration status.
Keep this in mind as you set out to debate and discuss your impressive list of bill topics. Paid parental leave. Oregonian health care reform. Lead abatement in school plumbing systems.
Conversations about the same issues you have prioritized are discussed within the walls of the Capitol today. As you debate the merits of bills, research policy, and reframe your ideas, remember that the real-world experience and understanding you gain can benefit lawmakers in Salem.
Your perspectives as young people is important in the conversations happening here, and I encourage you to participate. Civic engagement is essential to our democracy. It was a core of the work I did as Secretary of State to reach out to young people and talk about that engagement in the form of exercising their right to vote.
It is why I was proud to sign Oregon Motor Voter into law, which I proposed as Secretary of State, to make voting more accessible to Oregonians. At a time when voting rights are being threatened across our country, we must do our part to ask, “How can we put ballots into the hands of more voters?”
We must remove barriers for civic engagement.

The last thing I want to share is that the leadership skills you’re developing today matters for the future of our state. Being a leader is not easy, and doesn’t always make you popular. When the days are long, and the criticism is relentless, know that you and every single person has the ability to make a difference. I’m grateful for programs such as the YMCA Youth & Government, which gives you the space and resources to use your passion to effect positive change. Thank you to everyone who devotes time to giving our young people this opportunity.
 We must lift as we climb. My commitment is ensuring that the leaders of today chart paths for the leaders of tomorrow. In this room, we could have the future Governor of Oregon. The future Attorney General. The future Speaker of the House. I’m proud to say all of those positions are held by women. I will do my part to lift, to ensure our next generation is prepared to lead and to model civic engagement.
 To you, I encourage you to do the same. Lift as you climb. Help create an Oregon where each of us can thrive. The time is now.
 Thank you.