Last week’s passage of amendments to the city code regarding marches and protests calls for celebration: The City has chosen San Antonians. It has chosen progress and its youth.
I was born and raised in San Antonio. I am a high school student and a youth advocate. And I am proud that San Antonio’s City Council voted to increase opportunities for citizens to exercise free speech because it lends a voice to diverse perspectives and encourages civil discourse, a powerful tool in combatting increasingly polarized political climates.
For a long time, I felt disconnected from my city because I was unaware of opportunities for local youth to get involved. I cared about San Antonio, but didn’t feel like I could make an impact. I somehow believed that once I turned 18, I would automatically become civically engaged and speak up. That perception changed when I did a project at my high school where I advocated for disappearing cultures. I asked myself: Who is advocating on my behalf? And why is it not me?
This led me to join the San Antonio Youth Commission, which consists of 22 high school youth leaders, two members from each City Council district, and two mayoral appointees, and provides young people with an opportunity to weigh in on municipal issues that affect them.
My fellow commissioners and I are working to amplify the voices of San Antonio youth and create a youth-informed public policy agenda regarding issues we think should be addressed and improved upon, which we will present to City Council. I’ve become passionate about engaging my peers in civic discourse because it provides them with the opportunity to focus on both broad and specific issues.
As teenagers, our voices are often underrepresented. City leaders are currently planning for sustainability through a climate action plan, affordable housing as part of the Mayor’s Housing Task Force, and improved public transportation. But that work lacks one integral voice – that of young people. We are thrilled that the City is addressing these topics, because they pertain to our future, but as of yet they do not include our input. The free speech ordinance creates the space for us to express our concerns for our city, and we will not let our age limit our ability to weigh in on decisions that affect our daily lives.
My top concerns are environmental protection and providing equitable educational outcomes in schools. I would like to see San Antonio address climate change with more aggressive incentives for using renewable energy, supporting sustainable development, and implementing rooftop gardens and hydroponic systems. At my campus, we have garden and recycling programs, and I am active in the environmental science program.
Students are in the best position to stand up for inequitable schooling. Youth commissioners agree that a lack of access to higher education exists, and we want to see stronger college advising in our high schools. This could help youth become more engaged in our city as they mature and begin voting.
Commission members attend many youth-focused events across San Antonio to gather feedback on issues that our peers are most interested in. In order for us to be successful as a commission, we have to provide accessible opportunities for youth to speak out. With the ordinance, San Antonio has enhanced our ability to speak.
My First Amendment right is vital for my representation because I am not yet old enough to vote. These improved conditions in San Antonio create a space for my generation and those that follow to be more civically engaged and develop a political voice. This is paramount given the current social and political climate.
My generation, now more than ever, is speaking up for social justice in communities, states, nations, and the world. We are gathering in public places, participating in marches, and using our voice through social media to connect with others. The recent city code amendment signals that youthful voices will be heard and accounted for, and thus helps increase civic involvement.
Free speech is our youth vote, and this ordinance will amplify our voice.