Young people’s  involvement with politics has evolved far beyond canvassing for their local politician or registering new voters in their area. Amidst the rise of recent events and a desire to be more involved in the political process, Gen Z youth have started writing legislation and advocating for its behalf on a national platform. 

The rise in youth-written legislation can be attributed to organizations and individuals dedicated to teaching students about public policy. In particular, The Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia has mobilized high schoolers across the country through their High School Leaders Program. In this program, students spend one week on UVA’s campus and learn the process of writing a public policy proposal. 

Programs like HSLP are so successful because they teach students a long-term skill that can actually be applied in the real-world. 

“Another thing that really makes a difference with our policy proposal project is it truly is based in reality,”  Lauren Gilbert, the current Associate Director and Director of Programs at Sorenson, said. “It’s not just like an imaginary workshop where we’re having them work through a scenario or to a case study, and we really empower our students to pick a policy area that they care about.” 

After actually writing the policy proposal, they then have the opportunity to advocate for their proposal before a panel. This part of the process really gets the students excited. “They’re becoming aware of problems on a global scale and being empowered and being told, yes, you can do this, and here are the steps,” Gilbert said.  “The system to make a change, I think really helps students understand they can get involved in a policy space in a very real way, even beyond their time in a science and program. So it’s a skill set that they can carry on throughout their lives.” 

The impact of programs like Sorenson go far beyond the one week students are able to spend on UVA’s campus. Tarina Ahuja, co-founder and current president of the Greater Good Initiative and former HSLP graduate, describes her experience with founding a youth-led policy think tank that is making changes all around the country. 

“What inspired me to create GGI was thinking about how we can bring voices, especially on issues that are affecting all of us,” she said. “The mission of GGI is to show that incorporating people’s ideas matter. They matter in policy, they matter in government, they matter in legislation and that you don’t need a graduate degree to make change.” 

Ahuja added that what young people may lack in educational experience, they make up for with their lived experiences. “ Young people have the ability and the lived experiences to write policy and create a meaningful impact. Your voice is a mosaic of your experience. The things you have done and the experiences that you have had are things nobody has but you. All of those things give you the power and the capability to mobilize communities”.