Student leaders on how they won

In September, SPLC and the JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee hosted “New Voices: Student Leaders on How They Won.” Panelists Eleanor Dudley, Hope Johnson and Mariah Valles shared their experiences as student journalists advocating for New Voices legislation in Washington and Illinois, and tips for students and advisers looking to pass New Voices laws in their own states. 

The panelists encouraged students to get involved however they can, whether that be testifying before the legislature, writing letters, talking with the school board, or working to raise awareness among the wider school community about student media censorship. The panelists encouraged advisers to provide logistical support to students whenever possible, but to let students lead and allow them to make their own mistakes. 

“I can tell you that a lot of the things I learned in New Voices … I use every single day in my job,” said Valles, now a professional journalist. “This experience was seriously one of the greatest, and that’s because the adults surrounding me let me as well as a group of students lead.”

Although none of the panelists experienced overt censorship in their schools, they recognized in themselves the tendency to self-censor that has become endemic in the wake of Hazelwood. And although each was new to advocacy and nervous about telling their own stories, they were united in their belief that the risk was worth the reward.

“It really made me feel like the political process was one that was available to everyone and one that was interested in hearing our voices,” said Dudley.

“I’ll tell you that while it may be scary to get up there,” added Valles, “the thing that’s going to really stick out to those officials is young voices and them standing up for what they believe in. Because if you can’t stand up for what you believe in, why should they give it to you?”

Illinois became the tenth state with a New Voices law in 2016; Washington became the 14th two years later. 
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Save the date: New Voices kickoff week starts November 9

The minute election results are certified, new and returning legislators will begin gearing up for the next legislative session — and so should you. That’s why we’re dedicating the second week of November to bringing you tips, tricks, and to-dos to jump-start your organizing and advocacy efforts for the year. 

Keep an eye on your inbox throughout the week for special newsletters filled with updated resources, announcements, guides, and next steps from SPLC. 

And, consider your own New Voices kickoff event! This could be:

  • A coordinated social media campaign
  • A Zoom-in letter-writing event
  • A panel discussion, webinar or training 
  • Or more!
If you are not connected with your state’s New Voices chapter, e-mail Hillary for more information. 

Pro tip: Start your (e)mailing list today 

With legislatures expected to go virtual for at least part of this year, written correspondence will be your most critical advocacy tool. Get those email and snail mail lists compiled now to make things easier on yourself and your team in the months to come. Whenever possible, contact your legislators at their home addresses or district offices — noting that not all state legislators have district offices — unless you know the legislature is meeting in person at the State House. Start now by compiling the addresses of sitting legislators, usually available on your state legislature’s website or from your state elections officials, then check back in after your state election is certified to update the list as needed.

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Forward it to anyone you know who is interested in New Voices, and ask them to sign up themselves here.

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