I think many of us look out at the social and environmental problems we face in the world and simply say to ourselves, "There is nothing I can do." I understand that mentality but I don't believe it. There is always something more we can do to better the world in which we live. My students, my children, and my wife (OK, and now you) hear me frequently repeat, "everything I've ever done of any worth was believed by others to be impossible." In the context of my claim above, every time I dream of doing something great, many of those around me just sorta said, "Not a chance." Fortunately I've lived long enough to have proven them wrong more than once and have gained a bit of courage.
Today I would like to showcase two young people whose example of citizenship should be a call to each of us to "do something." The two students I would like to showcase are not alone. They represent a multitude of people (young and old) that have learned that doing right is more important than being comfortable. They have learned that goodness is not something you just have, it is something that is earned through effort.
Shaun Franks is a student of mine. He is in many ways my hero. Shaun serves in more leadership roles on campus than I can count and still manages to turn in his school work (or at least most of it). Shaun understand politics, business, and he isn't afraid to work. A few months ago Shaun traveled with a group of students to Washington D.C. for the U.S. Student Association (USSA) Grassroots Legislation and Lobby Day. During the event the USSA attempted to meet with Sallie Mae officials in regards to the growing student loan debt. The organization attempted for months to gain an audience and for months they were refused consideration. Shaun and others voiced their disapproval of Sallie Mae's unwillingness to meet peacefully in seated protest. Shaun was arrested along with others for blocking an entrance, was fined $50.00, and swiftly released without further charge. It was a brave thing to do for a young man. He paid a $50.00 fine, but knew before he acted that it could have deeper consequences for his schooling... and it has. Shaun is still a student at SOU, but took a few blows. Rather than give up or harbor violent or ill-feelings Shaun just keeps working. Shaun has recently assisted in securing funding for and initiated meetings to launch a student organic farm to assist low-income students in finding healthy food. He probably has more up his sleeve. I should also note that Shaun has a family and is soon expecting an addition to that family. He is a busy young man!
The second student appeared in the newspaper today. Kelsey Juliana is a 16-years-old student at South Eugene High School in Oregon. About a year ago Kelsey along with Olivia Chernaik filed a law suit against the Governor and the State of Oregon. Their claim rests upon the public trust doctrine that I have outlined in the past. Essentially, the law states that there are some resources that no person should be able to own and are therefore the responsibility of the state to manage and protect. This doctrine is used commonly to protect things like navigable streams and oceans. Kelsey and her lawyer are using it to argue that the climate itself is a resource demanding legal protection. At 16-years-old Kelsey is currently awaiting a decision by the Oregon Supreme Court as to whether to hear her case.
Whether or not Kelsey wins her case or even has it heard, she will know she acted and she will be better prepared to act in the future. Kelsey and Shaun exercise their citizenship and with exercise there comes strength. I know action can be difficult. We can feel overwhelmed, we can feel too tired, too busy, or feel like nothing could come of our actions. We just have to act anyway. Great work Shaun and Kelsey!!
Now, this blog was for my sister who recently commented that she wanted to hear stories of those who have done something good. Please don't let these two examples be the only two shared. Share a story with us!! Help us have the courage to act by inspiring us with the stories of those who have acted!!!
Vincent M. Smith - PhD