Written by Miki Kusunose, Bus Volunteer
For many teenagers like me, the Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor have felt monumental and oftentimes overwhelming. As people my age approach adulthood, the deep scars of society, the kleptocratic realities of this country, and the realization that the biases within ourselves are intrinsic to systemic racism, are emerging in the consciousness of my generation. In short, it is a lot to process.
Truth to be told, this reality is not new—we simply have reached the age to come to an understanding of its existence. Systemic racism set foot on this continent in 1619 when the first Black slaves arrived in Jamestown, continued in the Reconstruction era through the rise of Jim Crow, persisted when “separate but equal” became the norm through Plessy v. Ferguson, and seeped into the deepest roots of America as “White Only” signs plastered store windows. Even after the Civil Rights Movement in the 60’s, America failed to acknowledge and uproot this systemic racism and the current condition of Black America serves as a clear testament to that truth. Black people are subject to racial profiling, unequal access to resources, astronomically higher incarceration rates, poorer education, and higher rates of poverty. Systemic racism has stained every inch of the fabric of American society. Again, it is a lot to process and difficult to come to terms with.
But I am hopeful and optimistic. The outrage by young people and the outpouring of support that I am seeing from those around me tells me that the current events will be a true catalyst for change. Nonetheless, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and not know what to do to help out with the Black Lives Matter movement.
Here are a few things that every teenager can do to enact change in our communities.
- Attend your local city council meetings: It is easy to get caught up in the national headlines when keeping up with the news. However, the most effective way to address systemic racism is by addressing it in your local community. As a teenage community member, your voice as a young person carries a powerful conviction especially in a local context. Voice your concerns through a Public Comment during a city council meeting. The Seattle City Council allows anyone to sign up for a Public Comment 2 hours prior to the council meeting. Seattle City Council’s meetings are now all held online. Public testimonies through Zoom are available for the Renton City Council meetings, and written requests can be sent in for Bellevue City Council. Make sure to check your city’s policies on citizen participation for city council meetings.
- Get involved with and/or donate to Bail Funds: Thousands of people are in pre-trial jail in which many of whom need bail assistance to leave. Moreover, many of these people have not even been convicted of a crime—yet, they are held in jail. Incarceration rates for Black people are six times higher compared to white people in Washington State and this leaves many Black people struggling to break loose out of a criminal justice system that criminalizes them. Use-of-Force rates are significantly higher on Black people and unsurprisingly, a disproportionately large number of police complaints are filed by Black people. Donations to the Northwest Bail Fund, for example, can support those in pre-trial jail in King and Snohomish county. Now more than ever, these people need the support to go back to their families and their lives. Bail Funds are an effective way to have an immediate impact on the local community.
- Keep your representatives accountable: Whether it be your district representative into the United States Congress, Washington State Legislature, or local community leaders, these representatives’ duty is to voice your concerns and demands on an institutional level. Do not hesitate from writing emails and letters to your local representatives. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray are the Senators representing Washington State. Pramila Jayapal represents Washington’s 7th Congressional District (Seattle, Shoreline), Adam Smith represents the 9th District (Bellevue, Renton), and Suzan DelBene represents the 1st District (Redmond, Bothell). I also urge you to reach out to Washington State legislatures in your local district: https://app.leg.wa.gov/DistrictFinder/Home/GetMobileMapView?lat=0&lng=0. Find both your Congressional and Washington State Legislature Representatives in your local district using this website. Equally important is the executive office of King County, headed by Dow Constantine who serves 4 year terms: he will be up for reelection in 2021. The 2020 August Primaries are especially important knowing that the next Attorney General (currently Bob Ferguson) will be elected. The Office of the Attorney General is responsible for criminal justice, public safety, and economic justice amongst many other duties. With the current pressures to reform public safety in Seattle, keeping the Attorney General accountable will be critical to the success of the Black Lives Matter movement.
- Research, have conversations, and engage in introspective reflection: This monumental time offers us a critical time to research about systemic racism that is deeply rooted in American society. It is omnipresent in both the timeline of American history as well as today’s modern American society. Take the time to read books and publications to immerse yourself in how your life is interwoven in this society. A few books that I consistently come across regarding Black history are, So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. I can speak personally to Between the World and Me, and that Coates’s powerful writing, strong conviction, and clear message offered me a deep look into the life of Black man in America. This tumultuous time also makes for a great time to reflect upon yourself. Ask yourself, what privileges do I have because of the color of my skin? How do my actions feed into systemic racism? When do I unknowingly buy into implicit biases based on race? These are difficult, but critical questions to ask yourself as an American.
I hope the four things above can serve as a guideline to how teenagers like me can be involved in this fight for racial equality. Diving deep into your local community as well as yourself during these times can make for transformative conversations and institutional change which will be critical to the success of this movement.
In the current state of global pandemonium, news of the 2020 Census has been buried underneath blaring headlines about the coronavirus. The Census deadline has been pushed back to mid-August, and the stay-at-home orders have left Census workers biting their nails, apprehensive about the accuracy of this year’s Census.
This setback, however, does not change the fact that the Census matters more than ever for teenagers. As teenagers, it is easy to sit in the sanctity of our homes, letting any shred of thought regarding the Census fly over our heads. After all, we are still kids, sheltered from the realities of an adult life. However, the Census occurs once a decade—in other words, the Census data from 2020 will directly affect federal program spending deep into our 20’s.
Hundreds of federal programs use the Census data to make decisions on where and how the 675-billion dollars-worth of funding will be distributed every year. A large portion of this money directly affects high schoolers and college students. In fact, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Commerce, three within the top ten largest programs that use the Census Bureau Data are from the Department of Education. The largest of the three, is the Federal Pell Grant Program.
Federal Pell Grant Program, as the name implies, offers grants from the US Department of Education to help undergraduate college students pay for tuition. According to estimates from a Federal Pell Grant Report, 31% of undergraduate students received Pell Grants, or about 6.8 million students, during the 2018-2019 school year. The program’s 28 billion dollars of expenditures were directly affected by the 2010 Census data.
As a high schooler, I am frankly blown away by these numbers. The realization that a third of my peers in college will be dependent on federal programs that use Census data, hits me with a sense of urgency. Unfortunately, college debt is an inescapable reality for most students and mitigating the crisis of college debt will require appropriate distribution of funding. Knowing that the financial support that we will receive during our time in college is contingent on the accuracy of this year’s Census sheds light on the fact that the 2020 Census is vital to our long-term livelihoods.
Other than the Federal Pell Grants, medical assistance, construction, and Title 1 Grants, among many other programs will depend on the data from the 2020 Census. As one teenager to another, I want to call out to you reading at this very moment, to help with the Census. The Washington Bus has organized multiple virtual ‘Get Out The Count’ text/phone banks via Zoom, giving young people like us to contribute to the Census, especially during this extraordinary time when Census workers will need all the help and support they can get. Ultimately, the Census is not just a head count. It is a projection of our lives ten years into the future, and this opportunity to shape our future is, in my fair opinion, pretty darn important.
To fill out the census, go to 2020census.gov right now and respond. Be sure to include everyone you currently live with!
Want to volunteer with us? Help us contact people all over Washington State to Get Out The Count! We’re hosting weekly remote volunteer events as we work together to spread the word on Census! Sign up here.
HAPPY CENSUS DAY! (Not an April Fool’s joke…today is actually Census Day!)
Woah, woah, slow down. What the heck is the Census and why should I care?
The Census is an official count of every person living in the United States. It impacts how the government uses its resources, how we are represented, what programs are funded and so much more. The Census only occurs every 10 years, and the 2020 Census is happening RIGHT NOW. Making sure every young person is counted fairly and accurately is a huge deal and everyone has a role to play in ensuring a full count.
Okay, but why should I care?
Especially as the world seems like it’s crumbling into a global crisis and I’m seriously worried about myself and my family/friends (we’re with you! Please stay safe.) First things first, the Census determines the amount of funds available for disaster relief, and helps determine where new hospitals should go. Census data, especially accurate census data, means our communities are safer in the future.
An accurate census is VERY important for young people – especially if you use public transit, attend public school, need access to affordable housing, or use one of the countless government services that rely on Census data. Getting counted means that these resources can be shared equitably. Do you want your school to have the funding it needs? Do you want your community to have a grocery store where people really need it? Do you want the city’s next bus line to go through your neighborhood? Make sure you get counted in the 2020 Census!
Alright…this thing is important. Now what?
Today is Census Day! Aka the best time ever to fill out your Census form! You should’ve received a Census letter in the mail. That will have info for how to respond online (or via phone or mail). If you didn’t get that, you should go to 2020census.gov right now and respond. Be sure to include everyone you currently live with.
The sooner you respond online, the less likely a Census worker will need to stop by your home to collect info. Given recent COVID-19 concerns, responding online is the safest way to ensure you are counted.
I have more questions. Where can I find answers?
After months of chatting with young folks about the Census we’ve heard a lot of common questions and we’ve put together a list of handy answers that you can check out right here. Still have questions? Check out census.gov!
Want to do more to help? Volunteer with the Bus and help us Get Out The Count! We’re hosting weekly *remote* volunteer events as we work together to spread the word on Census! Sign up here.
With two new Co-Executive Directors starting earlier this month, we here at the Bus were feeling ready to take on the world! Or at least, ready to continue building our statewide movement to increase political access and participation for all young people #youthquake. Enter COVID-19, the virus that is having an unprecedented impact on the lives of each of us, and that of our loved ones and our communities.
We care about our community, especially those who are likely to be disproportionately affected by this pandemic and the narrative surrounding it– people of color, immigrants, people with a low-income, and those that are incarcerated. We’re here to do our part.
Like you, the Bus values inclusion, empowerment and justice, and it is out of these values that we are continuing to do our work. With an eye to the health and safety of the community, we’ve made some adjustments, because we know democracy must go on:
Our staff has been working remotely since March 16 and will continue to do so through at least April 8 (per Governor Inslee’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy order), if not longer. The health and safety of our staff and the community is number one.
We have shifted our current programming away from face-to-face field work and towards digital organizing and other remote strategies. Last week we kicked off our remote Census 2020 outreach and have held two “Get Out the Count” remote text banking sessions, yielding over 25,000 texts! We will be holding a remote phone/text bank every week to ensure our communities know to complete the census.
We have cancelled the in-person Bus Bash fundraiser and instead will be sharing virtual opportunities so you can continue to support our work and the 2020 Fellows when they begin the program this June. Stay tuned for updates.
We are fortunate to have the ability and privilege to practice the above-mentioned physical distancing.
We are in this together. We’d like to invite you to join us in whatever way you are able. Here’s how you can be with the Bus as we ride out this COVID storm:
Take care of yourself. We care about you and we need you. There are loads of resources available from our state here: https://www.coronavirus.wa.gov/
Complete the Census! Let’s help our community get the vital resources for its greatest moments of need (like right now).
Join a GOTC phone/text bank! Sign up here for the remarkably de-stressing activity of contacting strangers about democracy.
If you were planning to attend Bus Bash and your financial situation is stable, you can still support our work with a 100% tax-deductible gift in honor of Bus Bash.
Fight racism, xenophobia and ableism. This pandemic is feeding the long history of how immigrant groups and people of color have been labeled with “disease” imagery. We encourage each other to address the jokes and do their part to support people of color during this time.
Together, let us rise to this new challenge. Let us continue to demand that local and state governments adopt policies that protect historically disenfranchised communities and meet the needs of all people, not just some. And let us get innovative and creative with how we do this now, in the time of the Coronavirus, and for the long-term beyond.
The Bus Team
WA Bus staff during a virtual team meeting.
The Washington Bus is thrilled to announce that we have named our two Co-Executive Directors. After much anticipation, please join us in welcoming Cinthia Illan-Vazquez, Co-Executive Director for Policy and Program, and Kelly Hickman, Co-Executive Director for Operations and Development! Throughout the search and selection process, both Kelly and Cinthia emerged as the best leaders for our organization and to support our powerful team. Their leadership couldn’t come at a more perfect time. As we move into an important election cycle, we are excited to strengthen our movement of engaging young people in civic life and to lead with strong anti-racist, inclusive, and equitable values. We are grateful to the entire Bus community for your support throughout this process. The Board of Directors would like to extend a special thank you to the Washington Bus staff, Annie, Danny, Leila, Libby, Mo, and Xinyu, and our Interim Executive Director, Amy Wasser, for their excellent work during this transition period.
Cinthia and Kelly will begin their new positions together on Wednesday, March 4th and look forward to being in touch with you. Their contact info can be found on our staff page. Put your party hats on — we’ll be announcing a party in their honor soon!
Cinthia (she/her/ella) joins the Bus from her role as Community Engagement Manager at the Center for Education Results where she led and supported various community engagement efforts and strategies. Her drive to bring access and equity to our political and civic process solidified when she was a Fellow and, later, the Fellowship Coordinator at the Bus. Previously, Cinthia served as legislative assistant to current Speaker of the Washington State House of Representatives Laurie Jinkins, and as a community organizer with the Washington Dream Coalition, an undocumented and youth-led advocacy organization. She believes in the importance of people-centered movements aimed at dismantling systems of oppression through policy. Cinthia is excited to leverage her skills to amplify the Bus’s mission. Away from the office, she enjoys outdoor activities that connect her to the indigenous lands we are occupying.
Kelly (she/her/hers) joins the Bus from her previous role as Assistant Director at the Missions Office of the Archdiocese of Seattle. She is a highly collaborative and passionate leader with nearly eight years of nonprofit co-directing experience inspiring people to meaningful civic action. She is deeply committed to building inclusive strategies to create a more equitable society for everyone. She holds a Master’s degree in Transforming Spirituality from Seattle University. Kelly is a third generation Seattleite who grew up in north Seattle. Away from the office, she spends lots of time with family and friends, snuggling her cat Leeloo, and dollhousing.
Seferiana Day, Washington Bus Board President
Aaron Robertson, Washington Bus Education Fund Board President
Election szn is here!
We have said goodbye to our Summer Fellows, Candidate Survivor gowns, and Capitol Hill Block Party gear for the year. Don’t worry — things are far from winding down. High school and college campus voter registration drives are in full-swing and we are here for it. Bus staff and volunteers took over Western Washington University for Move-In Weekend. In partnership with Western Votes, a student-led organization, we registered 1,700 students to vote in just three days. As incoming students grabbed their dorm keys, our team ensured they updated their voter information to receive their ballots at their current mailing address. Many students registered for the first time!
Why register students to vote on college campuses? Registering college students every year is a major way to drive up voter turnout among young people. We need to be meeting students where they are. Despite Washington’s newly extended voter registration deadline of October 28th, students will still need to update their information if they moved over the summer. Since a majority of university students are renters, this is an important effort.
We want to make it easy to register to vote. Many students are juggling school with work (sometimes more than one job) and family responsibilities. More and more student organizations are investing in civics education and voter registration to amplify the voices in their communities. And guess what? It’s working. Last year, midterm turnout for young voters (ages 18-29) is up to 31% — that’s millions more than in 2014.
Civic engagement brings together communities on campus. Voter registration efforts like Western Votes attract students from various of backgrounds, majors, and political passions. Western Votes alum, Ari Winter, explains, “Coming to Western was easier for me because I had other passionate folks volunteering around me. Western Votes has been a transformational experience for me as a student, voter, activist, and human being.” This is why we do the work we do: youth-led movements are powerful and deserve support.
We believe our democracy works best when everyone can participate. Good things happen when elected officials know who’s voting. Young voters who advocate for affordable housing, climate justice, reproductive justice and more can make a real difference in their legislators’ priorities. In just the last two weeks, the Bus has registered more than 700 high school students to vote — now we want to turn that energy into turnout in November.
Sound like fun and you want to volunteer? Or, do you want to run your own voter registration drive? Reach out to Emma Scalzo at emma[at]washingtonbus[dot]org.