In a tough political year in West Virginia, young people from the Appalachian Center for Equality program rose to the challenge.
In the wake of the 2014 elections, control of the WV legislature passed to Republican hands for the first time since 1932. Many legislators who had championed the statewide Our Children Our Future campaign to end child poverty were either no longer there or were not in leadership positions. Many legislators were newly elected and largely unknown.
Nevertheless, when the campaign unveiled its platform in mid-January at the state Capitol, high school senior and BAPS (Believing All Is Possible) member Chancely Norman was one of the key speakers at the press conference and spoke on the need for juvenile justice reform.
Norman was quoted in the Charleston Gazette as saying, “Locking up kids costs a lot of money for our state. I don’t think taking kids away from their families and locking them up does much help for anybody. It hurts them instead of giving them the help they need.”
Prior to the election, BAPS students helped organize and run a candidate forum to educate lawmakers about their issues. During the session, they held a community meeting on juvenile justice.
BAPS students were also front and center at Kids and Families Day at the legislature, where members spoke and led cheers and explained the day’s events to a crowd of over 500 adults and young people.
At West Virginia’s first Girls’ Day at the Capitol, ACE students from Mingo County not only spoke to a crowd of around two hundred attendees about foster care and juvenile justice, but also were interviewed about the issues on statewide talk radio.
During a hearing about drinking water protections late in the session, a young woman from the Boone County program had her statement read at a public hearing in the House chambers.
Victory for youth, families
In the end, despite the challenging environment, the campaign won several victories, including juvenile justice and truancy reform, some expansion of early childhood education, restored funding for family programs, some drinking water protections, preserving Medicaid expansion, and the creation of a task force to prevent child sexual abuse.
The WV Economic Justice Project was also heavily involved in the legislative session.
In addition to supporting the child poverty campaign, the project participated with allies in successful efforts to stop anti-union “right to work” legislation, preserve prevailing wages for public construction projects, limit dark money in political campaigns, and preserve the right of access to courts for workers and their families when they are hurt or killed on the job.