Written by Sydney Millerd, Photographed by Sydney Millerd + H2OO & The U.S. YAC for UNOD
In April 2023, I traveled to Washington, DC as a youth of the U.S. Youth Advisory Council for the UN Ocean Decade (U.S. YAC for UNOD) to lobby members of Congress. Alongside 15 other youth from across the country, we voiced the importance of caring for our oceans and addressing climate change.
We particularly lobbied for the four following bills to be reintroduced:
The U.S. YAC for UNOD is a youth-led program of Heirs To Our Ocean (H2OO) that operates in partnership with the U.S. National Committee for the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science to bring youth to the table and empower them to actively participate in shaping the world they want to live in. I was a member of the organization’s 3rd Cohort from August 2022 to May 2023 and served as the Education Committee Chairperson. In this role, my committee and I worked on creating an educational toolkit on the UNOD’s 10 Challenges while other committees took on other projects in the areas of Movement and Policy, which included planning for our annual DC lobbying days, known as “Hill Days.”
Prior to traveling to DC, we virtually prepared for Hill Days by meeting in our teams of four, with each team member focusing on one of the four priority bills for lobbying. My fellow team members were from California, Arizona, and Texas, and together we represented the West. With my background in marine debris pollution from SCH, I was responsible for the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act which takes a holistic approach towards the plastic pollution issue in the United States addressing it from production to disposal with an array of measures.
Although I had been to DC a couple of times before, this was my first time lobbying there, so I was a bit nervous but still excited. I was particularly excited because I was bringing the messages of Hawaii’s youth directly to these national policymakers (literally). A few months prior to DC, the SCH (re)Learning team provided students the opportunity to write postcards expressing the need to care for our oceans on what we called “Action Cards.” This activity was incorporated into our (re)Learning presentations which we began on our Kauaʻi (re)Learning Tour in February following the beached whale incident that showcased the issue of marine animals consuming the plastic that pollutes our oceans.
Originally, we had planned to mail the Action Cards to officials in DC, but I found out that I would be participating in the U.S. YAC for UNOD Hill Days, so it was the perfect timing for me to physically bring the postcards with me on my trip and hand them to national officials. It was also perfectly fitting that the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act was one of our priority bills and that I would be responsible for lobbying for it! As a result, I brought over 200 of these Action Cards to Washington, DC and gave a stack to each office that we met with which reinforced the words that I spoke and the need to reintroduce this bill. For the most part, the offices were excited to receive them and understood that I represented more. I was stoked to see how the work of my internship at SCH overlapped with this real-world action I was taking with this extracurricular organization I was involved in and the timing was just perfect!
Over the course of two days, my team was able to meet with 10 congressional offices, including three from Hawaiʻi. We usually met with staffers but did meet with one actual congressperson. It was interesting to interact with the offices of representatives and senators that sat on both sides of the political spectrum and hear what they had to say about the bills that were lobbying to be reintroduced: some never heard of the bills, some were in strong support, and some were in complete opposition. It was also very interesting to experience unexpected reactions where offices we expected to disagree with us, actually expressed interest and support; and offices that we expected to agree with us, actually did not. Although not every one of the 10 offices was a pleasant lobbying experience, it was a challenge that helped us to grow as young change makers.
In total, our organization successfully completed 45+ meetings (virtual and in-person) for Hill Days, lobbying with both Democratic and Republican candidates to advocate for bipartisan support of ocean and climate legislation. Other than lobbying, we also had the opportunity to meet with members of the U.S. National Committee at the National Academy of Science and tour the various museums, monuments, and attractions in DC. The overall experience was hard work but balanced with a lot of fun. However, the best part for me was working with my fellow U.S. YAC for UNOD youth and building bonds and friendship over the common passion of caring for our planet.