In response to widespread feelings of disinterest in local government, educators, state legislators and students have been working to provide Michigan youth, age 15 to 22, with an opportunity to become more active in their community and state government.

The Michigan Youth Caucus is a program recently created by the Michigan Civics Institute.

According to MCI’s website, “The primary goal of the Caucus is to foster student interest and involvement in state government and politics through immersion in a sophisticated virtual democracy. The activity places students in the roles of legislators, constituents, reporters and lobbyists, and they wrestle with issues of common interest to Michigan youth.”

Recently, student members of MYC became involved in a public policy debate on conservation of Michigan resources. Perrier, a company that produces bottled mineral water, signed an agreement to withdraw water for 99 years from an 800-acre private deer hunting reserve near Muskegon. According to the plaintiff involved in the debate, the reserve, known as the Sanctuary, is a critical natural resource in Michigan.

The motion states the Sanctuary features “a diverse and unique system of wetlands, knolls, springs, and creeks.”

MYC member Brendan Collins, a student at West Bloomfield High School, said research was initiated by Zach Foster, another member of MYC. Collins said after they learned about the issue, various students debated the topic of conservation of Michigan’s resources until they came up with a unified stance which they call their platform.

Rebecca Bush, who heads the Allegan County Intermediate School District, said the platform allows MYC members to turn their ideas into action. With the platform, the students can say, “Here’s what we believe. Here’s what we’re willing to do,” Bush said.

MYC member Timothy Dixon said once an issue hits the platform level, MYC members meet with people and push for legislation.

Collins said he and several members of MYC met with Perrier lobbyists in order to better understand their stance and hear their point of view. At this point, the MYC had decided its platform would be in favor of conserving the unique resources of the Sanctuary.

The students also met with state Rep. Doug Hart (R-Rockford). Hart has worked closely with MYC since its founding in 2000, Collins said. The students also met with Gov. Jennifer Granholm through her new Constituent Services Program, in which MYC student members outlined their case in favor of conserving Michigan’s resources, said Collins, while Granholm explained her own policies.

Many believe that the MYC program is a good way to complement high school American government classes, which focus more on the federal level.

Speaking about his involvement in MYC, Collins said, “I wouldn’t be as knowledgeable about local issues” and he wouldn’t care about local and state government as much if it wasn’t for the MYC program.

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