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The 2018 Students Inside Albany Conference

students inside albanyThe League of Women Voters of Scarsdale selected and sponsored Scarsdale High School Juniors Amanda Glik and Isabelle Riback to attend this year’s Students Inside Albany conference held from May 20-23. SIA is an intensive four-day conference run by the League of Women Voters of New York State designed to immerse students in the process by which public policy is proposed, revised and enacted in New York State and to educate them as to how they can influence and affect this process. If you would like more information about the League of Women Voters of Scarsdale and/or the Students Inside Albany Program, contact president@lwvs.org. Here is the report prepared by Amanda and Isabelle about their trip:

The beautiful view from the train foreshadowed the drastic change of scenery that awaited us in Albany. Once we were settled at the hotel, the group of 60 students from all over New York congregated and talked about our different experiences. We met people who lived 10 minutes away from us, and others who lived 10 minutes away from Canada. These unique and varied perspectives led to truly engaging conversations when we talked about politics and our daily lives. In order to prepare for the following days, Jennifer Wilson, the Legislative Director of the LWVNYS taught the group about New York State politics and how Assembly Sessions function. These presentations were particularly eye-opening, as we had not studied state government in school. Armed with knowledge and new friends, we prepared for the mock session with our peers.

The next morning, the group took a tour of the Capitol and learned about its rich history. Whereas some rooms had lavish carvings, the end of construction left many walls unfinished. We witnessed senators having private discussions in the only location of the senate chamber that doesn’t echo: the fireplaces. In fact, we decided to try out the fireplaces ourselves. The Million Dollar Staircase provided insight to the amount of time, energy, and money that was put into to making our beautiful capital. On the Assembly floor, we participated in a mock session, discussing A6140, the Repeal the NY SAFE Act Bill. As we advocated and voted, we realized the diversity of New York State and the controversy of gun bills. The people who lived upstate had exceptionally different views than we are accustomed to hearing in our community. It felt amazing to engage in such thoughtful discussion and advocate on behalf of our “constituents.” We also learned firsthand about the importance of civility on the assembly floor. Ultimately, the bill did not pass, which we learned is rare; in reality, the majority party of the Assembly would not likely allow a bill to be heard on the floor if it was not going to pass. Newly empowered, we were perfectly primed to learn about the power of the private citizen. The rest of the day consisted of guest speakers who spoke of political activism and lobbying successfully. A representative from the Alliance for Quality Education talked about the disparity between certain school districts and advocated for public education equality. Liz Moran of the Environmental Advocates of New York defined environmentalism and taught the group about issues in New York such as aging water infrastructure. We were encouraged to learn more about current environmental policy such as a bill that is currently sitting on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senate Bill S5287, which relates to the right to clean air and water and a healthful environment. The most important message was that members of the public, because they are not special interest groups, are key to policy change. Not only was state government more influential to our lives than we thought, we have a lot of power, too!

Following our mock session, we got to witness our own legislators in action. Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, who represents the 88th Assembly District, was generous enough to give us an idea of what her life is like day to day. We learned about different bills she was working on. We were all amazed as we sat and watched her gracefully work out little bumps in her Assembly Bill A01030, which is set to be passed. We admired her use of power for good. The passion Assemblywoman Paulin has for what she does was evident in the way she fought for her beliefs and interacted with her fellow legislators. Despite our age, we were treated with a great amount of respect and promise. We look forward to following Assemblywoman Paulin’s activity and hope to follow in her passionate footsteps toward positive advocacy.

Next, we had the honor of meeting Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Minority Leader of the New York Senate. We talked to her about the importance of state government and learned about her path to becoming a state senator. During our shadow session we witnessed Senator Stewart-Cousins second the nomination of Barbara Underwood to be the New York State Attorney General. As young women looking to enter the field of government as we get older, it was a tremendous privilege to see such an inspiring and historic moment. At the joint session, some members spoke about their unhappiness with the Constitution's requirement that the Legislature must appoint an acting Attorney General, as opposed to having a special direct election. The appointment of Attorney General Underwood was rare, as it was a result of the resignation of the previous Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman. Through this experience, we learned the state Constitution is not perfect; it is incumbent upon the members of the government and public to ensure a fair process.

On Tuesday night, at a media panel, our group asked questions about the role of media in politics and the influence media has on the public. The panelists, Rachel Silberstein from the Times Union, Don Clark from PolitiFact, and Tim Williams from WCNY, discussed their respective media and how they became involved in journalism. Many students asked about identifying reliable news sources and being well-informed. Many students were encouraged to reach out to magazines and submit their own work.

The knowledge and experience we gained in Albany was important, eye-opening, and inspiring. We formed connections with teenagers from all over the state. In fact, we have remained in touch with many of the other students from the group. We feel incredibly fortunate to have formed such close bonds and to have had such an incredible experience.

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