West Linn students advocate for their beliefs
Wallace Milner doesn't see summer break as a time to sit back and stay silent. While the occasional vacation is important to Milner, this rising senior at West Linn High School is spending his summer advocating for political change — personally and with a student-led political advocacy group: WL Students for Change. He's also advancing his future career interests in politics and journalism.
"When you are in a position of privilege as I am — I am lucky to live in a wealthy town and have a stable home life — you have an obligation to use that privilege to push for positive change," Milner said. "I want to do what I can to make our community and our state a better place. I want to help people and I think advocating for political change is the best way to do that."
In June, Milner attended the 2018 Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference, which promotes the role of the First Amendment and inspires students to pursue journalism careers. Students applied to be a part of this conference and there was one winner from each state.
"The conference (was) about the five freedoms of the First Amendment — how we can utilize our voices and our constitutional right to speak to craft a better world," Milner said. "It was a reminder that journalism and that free speech is vital to the function of our society. I think there's this idea that you cannot be a journalist and also be idealistic. .... I think that's false. By shedding light on stories that would otherwise go unheard, by giving a voice to the voiceless, you're doing something incredibly idealistic."
This summer, Milner also plans to be involved in protests that send out messages he believes in and starting July 11, he will be interning on the political campaign for West Linn's Rachel Prusak, who is running for Oregon House District 37.
"I get the impression her campaign cares about student issues and (she) wants to hear student voices," Milner said.
West Linn Moms Demand Action, a group that addresses solutions for gun violence, approached WL Students for Change — a group not affiliated with WLHS that formed after the school shooting in Parkland to raise awareness and reduce gun violence — and a number of other West Linn students following the school walkouts in March and April held in response to school shootings. Students were invited to attend one of their meetings where Prusak was also present. Prusak reached out to Milner and another student about talking to WL Students for Change, where she then offered Milner an internship position on her campaign.
"I was very excited because I have not seen a candidate that represents West Linn's values as well as she does in my lifetime," he said.
While Milner's not entirely sure what his duties will entail, he is eager to learn more about politics and to lend a voice, which he has already done this summer when he protested with Portland's Occupy ICE group.
But Milner isn't the only student getting politically involved this summer.
He said other members in WL Students for Change are involved with protests, whether it's pushing for gun reform or addressing immigration issues.
"I believe that we have different views as to how to address the immigration issue but all of us agree it is inhumane to separate children from their parents," Milner said, adding that he encourages students, especially in the summer when they have down time, to speak up, find opportunities to get involved, get informed with the news and remember to vote.
Myzanne Huss, who recently graduated from WLHS and was also a member of WL Students for Change, said she's going to continue advocate for more gun legislation.
"I don't know exactly what events we (WL Students for Change) might be going to (this summer)," she said, "(but) we are paying more attention to the news, just trying to voice how we feel about things."
She said other members in the group are working on petitions this summer that promote stricter gun control as well. And Huss said summer is a great time to get involved and learn about what students in other school districts are doing.
"It opens your eyes to the political system we have in place right now and I know we learn about American history in school, but we don't really focus that much on current events," Huss said. "I want to help inspire other students to know that just because they're young doesn't mean they can't have an opinion on these kind of things. We are going to be living in this country for however many years that follow us ahead (and) I want to grow up and raise my kids in a safer country than it is right now."
Milner said if other students want to fight for change, regardless of their beliefs, they should check local papers, watch the news, reach out and find community organizers and activists, or attend rallies to find organizations to get involved with.
"Cynicism and apathy are weapons to prevent change," Milner said. "I believe that people in power try to convince you nothing can change because all too often they have a vested interest in keeping things from changing. I think the most important thing we can remember is that things can change. We can create a better
world; we can create a more humane world."