REMARKS AS PREPARED
Governor Kate Brown
Oregon Youth Summit
February 21, 2020
Good morning everyone!
I’m so happy to be here today to celebrate you student leaders here in Oregon before you go off to D.C.
So I would like to talk to you about two things today.
First, my firm belief that each one of you can make a difference and the importance of every single voice being heard through voting.
One of the many things that I love about Oregon is that each one of us can make a difference, in our state, in our communities and in our schools.
Since becoming Governor, I’ve seen our students walk out to demand action on climate change. I’ve held the hands of grieving students and their families in the aftermath of the Umpqua Community College shooting in Roseburg. I’ve chanted side by side with youth in Portland demanding justice.
I think most of you know that many of our problems are too big for any one person to solve. We need collective action. We need engaged citizens of all ages. And that means you.
I’ve been inspired by the work of fellow Oregonian Hailey Hardcastle. At only 18 years old, she took a problem she was having to the floor of the legislature: mental health.
She said, “Students are already missing days for mental health reasons, so they’ll lie and they’ll tell the school they’re chronically sick or they have headaches all the time.”
At that point, none of the adults in their lives know that the students actually have depression, anxiety, or another totally treatable and livable condition.
And if adults knew, they could provide resources for students to get the help they need to get back to school. Hailey’s point is that lying about the reason to leave school only makes the problem worse, or obscures it completely.
And after a year of advocacy, I stood next to Hailey and signed into law a bill she helped champion that mandates excused mental health days from school.
It’s one of the proudest moments as Governor when I see young people, like yourselves, engage with their community, and get involved in the legislative process. Because large or small, getting involved makes a difference.
My second request to you is around voting. In Oregon, we believe that your vote is your voice and that every single voice matters.
Because our nation’s problems--homophobia, sexism, climate change, immigration--are addressed in major ways at the ballot box.
But every year millions of eligible Americans find themselves unable to cast a ballot because they missed a voter registration deadline, they do not fill out their ballot, or they send it in too late.
So consider this your not-so-gentle reminder: register to vote now. Then when you’re 18, a ballot will appear in your mailbox. Fill it out. Send it back. The postage is already paid for.
Our democracy doesn’t work for all of us unless all eligible voters can access the ballot box, and that starts with registration.
In Oregon, we’ve worked hard to make registering to vote as easy as going to the DMV. Our state is ranked #1 easiest state to vote in. But only about 1 in 5 young people turn out to vote.
I am living proof that every vote truly makes a difference.
I know firsthand the power of voting. When I ran for office for the very first time, everyone said I was doomed. My opponent was well-known; I was not. That made it all but impossible to raise money for my campaign. But I had two things going for me: guts and determination. If I couldn’t out-fundraise my opponent, I would outwork her.
I became the human embodiment of what it meant to run for office. I ran, sprinting from dawn until dark every single day – knocking on as many doors and talking to as many voters as I could.
And yes, in the end, I won – by seven votes.
Any time you wonder if you should bother voting, or if your vote even counts, you should think of me.
Today, many, many years later, people still stop me in the grocery store to say, “I was your seventh vote,” and whether they were or not, their vote made a big impact. Yours can too. Because our nation’s problems — homophobia, sexism, climate change, immigration — are addressed in major ways at the ballot box.
So get after it: make real change. Roll up your sleeves and get to work. Find an issue you care about and get involved, even if it’s just throwing an organization five bucks.
Get your friends to vote, your family, your significant others...random people on the street, everyone! Your vote is your voice. And your vote matters because YOU matter.
Thank you and have a fantastic day here at your state capital.