Students Take Action in State Capitol

Pierce student government members share experiences and urge others to get involved


January 26 may have been an ordinary Tuesday for most students, but for the legislative team that visited Olympia, it was one much more important: Political Action Day.

Legislative Senator William Sawyer and Club Senator PrinseLena Allain-Pendergrass of Pierce’s student government sat down to discuss what the purpose of Political Action Day, as well as how students can more actively involve themselves in government and legislation.

“Political Action Day in the past has been about getting as many students down to the capitol as possible,” said Sawyer.  “But it’s proven to be complicated.  Although there’s been a lot of turnout, management has been an issue… this time we tried something new.  It was just a small, legislative team to get there and show that the Community and Technical Colleges (CTCs) were all on the same topics.”  

The different community colleges throughout the state that participate in Political Action Days are known as the Washington State Community and Technical College Student Association (WACTCSA).  The teams first met at South Puget Sound Community College to discuss and focus the topics they would be discussing with legislators in Olympia.  

According to the Legislative Agenda provided by Sawyer, these topics included such things as providing post-secondary education opportunities to inmates, refining basic education as kindergarten through Associate Degree, rather than kindergarten through high school, and textbook affordability.

Sawyer talked more about the legislative teams’ strategies: “The last thing you want to be is another face in the crowd.  You want to be personal, you want to be unique, and you don’t want to draw it out.  [Cameron Cox] gave the best example: ‘I like puppies, you like puppies, you have money, please fund puppies.’  That simple message is a good way to get your point across.”

“Be as accurate as possible, and get to the point,” said Allain-Pendergrass.  According to the two, working with legislatures takes a lot of involvement from committees, and there were roughly 200 students involved in the expedition.  

Sawyer described the general process of how state legislature hears new law, based on experience from sitting in on an education committee: “...Each time they have a hearing, multiple bills come up, and they talk about it, give the context on the bill, different people come up to speak on behalf of it.  Then if there’s anyone speaking against the bill, they come up, and the committee asks questions they need answers.  Then, behind closed doors, they deliberate more.”

Attempting to speak to legislators may be intimidating, but what Sawyer describes is a relatively simple process.  “We’d like to talk to people more about just how easy it is to go down there and talk about a bill if you’re passionate enough.  It’s as easy as signing in the day of and talking to them, you don’t have to have a whole lot of leeway; if they’re there having a hearing, you can talk to them.”

Sawyer also described an encouraging sight:  “A lot of people think that because it’s legislative and political that it’s way above them.  But there are people talking there every day that are students and younger.  I’ve seen high school students down there talking about what affects them.”

The student government members also agreed that it is actually easier to get involved than ever before.  “Just read,” says Sawyer.  “If you hear chatter about a new piece of legislation, you can read up on it.  It may not affect you personally, but it’s easy to get into knowing it affects many people around you.”

Allain-Pendergrass said that even YouTube can be a good resource for learning.  “I found a lot of videos where people breakdown and summarize what you need to know, while giving good references.”  She also recommends talking among fellow students, as well as visiting student government meetings, which take place bi weekly and mimic the structure of state legislature.

Though they couldn’t discuss specifics, student government has more plans for further expeditions to the state capitol, and perhaps even inviting legislators to visit campus directly.