The governor of Missouri is listening. So are several mayors across the country and any number of corporate executives.
They want to know what young people think. And increasingly, they're appointing teens and twentysomethings to advisory boards, councils and cabinets to find out.
"A lot of adults have spent their time trying to figure out what it's like to be young but don't involve us," says Ben Smilowitz, a senior at Washington University in St. Louis.
When boards have included young people, too often they've only been "tokens," he says. But that's beginning to change.
Already an experienced youth activist at age 21, Smilowitz was drafted by Missouri Gov. Bob Holden to coordinate a youth cabinet, one of the first of its kind for a state government.
Applications flooded in over the summer. And this past week, Holden announced the names of 45 young Missourians to be assigned to state departments that deal with everything from transportation to poverty.
"I do not want these people to be out getting the mail or the coffee," Holden said. "I want them to be engaged."
He says he was inspired to create the cabinet by young people already involved in his state's politics -- from Students Against Driving Drunk to the daughter of one state senator who spoke in favor of legislation that would allow people as young as 16 to donate organs.
Holden's wish for youth involvement also goes back to his own college days. He was one of several student leaders who fought, in the 1960s, to get a student on his university's board of regents -- a "radical" idea at the time, he says.
This fall, the city of Columbus, Ohio, appointed its first youth council. In Indianapolis, which established a youth council three years ago, members have helped organize youth summits, write grants and design a buyback program for violent video games.
Gabe Smith, who has been a member of the Indianapolis council since its inception, says it has taken a while for young people to feel comfortable telling Mayor Bart Peterson what they really think.
"But as we keep going, it's becoming more of an avenue for us to speak out," says Smith, a 17-year-old high school senior.
Sometimes youth are organizing before politicians ever get involved.
It happened last year in Seattle after a young man was killed during the city's Mardi Gras celebration. After an 18-year-old was convicted, Seattle youth joined forces to counter a public outcry against youths.
"They were generalizing instead of looking at the individual," says 17-year-old Vera Artison, a member of the Seattle Youth Congress.
Through public forums and meetings with the mayor, she says her peers "helped change that image a lot."
In Chicago, 18-year-old Lisa Rodriguez and other students recently met with public schools CEO Arne Duncan. They asked for stricter criteria for selecting school security guards after several female students complained of sexual harassment
Rodriguez, a leader in the youth council in the Brighton Park neighborhood, says she was pleased with how receptive Duncan was.
"Being involved in this group has definitely taught me a lot about how politics works and how to get things that you want," she says. "It's also taught me that uniting with people is better."
There are other advantages to getting involved.
Both Rodriguez and Artison will include their work on their applications to college.
The same is true for Maya Tobias, who has served as an adviser to Littlearth, a fashion accessories company based in her hometown, Pittsburgh.
Her advice has been as simple as suggesting designers shorten long, out-of-style purse straps. In return, she has gotten an inside look at how a corporation runs.
"It has changed my life so much," says Tobias, 17. "I've become totally interested in business."
Karina Meckel, a 20-year-old junior at Brown University, says the same. She has served on advisory panels for ad agency Euro RSCG with young people from Russia, China and other countries -- and turned herself into such a valuable resource that the company now pays her as a consultant.
"It's given me an opportunity to have legitimate responsibility," Meckel says.
Of all the ways to get involved, Smilowitz says youth may be the most skeptical of government. Many don't even vote.
"The onus is on government to stand up and say, 'We need to include you,"' he says, "because young people have already given up."
Smilowitz believes the Missouri youth cabinet will help change that, especially if its members encourage their peers to get involved.
"Hopefully," he says, "that cynicism can be turned into something positive."
On the Net:
Missouri State Government: http://www.state.mo.us
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