Members of the DMPS Community Legislative Action Team spent February 21 at the Iowa State Capitol. At a time when public education is under-funded, and even under attack, by too many elected officials, this delegation of parents, students, volunteers and School Board members were there to advocate on behalf of the schools and students of Des Moines. School Board member Cindy Elsbernd and East High student Maddie Miller teamed up to write about the experience for our blog.
Last Wednesday, members of the DMPS Community Legislative Action Team (CLAT), School Board members, and students from the East High Ambassadors class took to the Capitol for the DMPS Day on the Hill. This advocacy event is organized by CLAT to get parents, the community, and other public education advocates in front of those decision makers to tell our stories in an attempt to influence hearts, minds, and ultimately votes for legislation beneficial to our schools and against legislation that would be detrimental. For several of the adults and students alike, this was a first.
The morning was certainly a lesson in what can be known as the “hurry up and wait” and the practice of patience that is legislative advocacy. After starting in the East High Auditorium with a briefing, the group gathered at the Capitol to find that both the House and Senate were in caucus – meetings of each party that rendered the legislators unavailable for an uncertain amount of time. Time spent at the Statehouse however is rarely a waste, giving an opportunity to take in the history and beauty of the building as well as to take advantage of other opportunities offered there.
CLAT advocates were eventually able to get face time with a variety of state legislators before the morning ended. One of the first-timers was East High student Maddie Miller. Here’s what she wrote about her experience:
The nerves started to build up as I walked into Iowa’s Capitol preparing to talk to state legislators about the important issues in my school and the schools around me. As I entered I stopped to look and in front of me were people talking to one another and focused in on their computers. As the morning went on we sat outside the big beautiful doors that would enter into the room full of (Senate) Democrats and Republicans who were in caucus. While time passed we looked in the library where books were all around you – the things you could learn were endless.
We entered into Secretary of State’s office. Some of my fellow classmates got to take a step into adulthood and sign up to vote right on the Iowa Constitution. “I felt privileged to have the experience of registering to vote on the Iowa constitution. This is a memory that can’t be forgotten,” East High senior Hope Bos said.
Straight across from the doors of the Senate stood another set of doors for the House of Representatives. Slowly they filed out as some rushed to lunch or another meeting, while others stayed to talk to the people with a request for their time. I then approached my representative Ako Abdul-Samad. The pressure was on. I had to tell him why I was here, why I need my voice heard, and how we were going to fix it. I approached Ako with a smile and introduced myself. He began to tell me that he had a quick meeting with a group of people and encouraged me and my fellow classmates to come to the meeting and experience something different.
We followed him and entered a room full of people all trying to support one of the world’s issues. The love and support that came over you as you entered the room was strong. Everyone was there to make sure that everyone around the world wouldn’t have to be pushed or discriminated because of something they couldn’t change – it was who they were and they were proud of that. These people stood strong together and this was something that made you want to make a change. Many people stood up and expressed the struggles they had growing up and the even bigger struggles they have as adults.
The meeting was over and I was ready – it was my time to voice who I was here for. I expressed my struggles as the older sister that watches her siblings struggle with mental health issues and of trying to be accepted not only by the students around them but also the teachers. Some students with mental health issues appear as everyone else on the outside but on the inside they aren’t. So many students don’t get the true help they deserve. Ako was very supportive and understanding of where I was coming from and understood it was a battle that was worth fighting for. I felt accomplished after I had spoken with Ako. I felt heard. I knew that people understood my struggles and understood that is was a battle worth fighting for.
Maddie went on to tell about how she and some of her other classmates spoke to other legislators about the SAVE statewide penny sales tax – a high priority for DMPS to have extended in order to continue making infrastructure improvements to accommodate students with safer, better learning environments. They provided information about how DMPS has a five-year plan for use of this funding stream and how extending SAVE is going to help Iowa’s schools be safer and give more students better learning opportunities.
Overall it turned out to be a productive morning and while Maddie described speaking with legislators as a privilege, I would say the reverse is true – that our lawmakers had the privilege of speaking with Maddie, her classmates, and other DMPS advocates last Wednesday and hopefully were a little wiser for it.