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Columnist Tadea Martin-Gonzalez: Cast well-informed votes for legislators

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Monday, June 11, 2018

This spring, my view on local government changed completely when the organization I was involved in, the Pioneer Valley Students For Gun Control, found information about Massachusetts Extreme Risk Protective Order Bill H.3610, more commonly known as a “red flag” law, which would allow guns to be taken away from people who present a “clear and present danger to themselves or others.”

Advocating for that bill opened my eyes to the power of the state Legislature. It was shocking that in Massachusetts — arguably one of the most (if not the most) progressive states in the country — did not have this common-sense piece of gun legislation.

It was my work on the bill that allowed me to realize that there is so much we can do as activists on the state level. The state Legislature decides more than just the budget, something in itself that is immensely important. It decides which core subjects are required to be taught in schools, environmental policy, how our statewide criminal justice system works, the minimum wage, immigration policy — the list goes on and on.

The issues decided by the state Legislature arguably have just as much impact on me as a young person as those discussed on the federal level. Most of the issues that come up on a federal level have some component that can be impacted by activists on the local level. While it’s important to spend lots of energy advocating for your beliefs on the federal level, we can have just as great an impact on the state level.

Today, as a politically active teen, my focus is on both taking back the federal Congress, and, to a different degree, taking back the state Legislature.

After the shooting in Parkland, Florida, the first thing I did was look to Congress because I had thought activism meant changing legislation on a federal level. But then I took one hard look at the Republican majority, the blockade of people with whom I did not agree, and I realized they probably wouldn’t budge.

We could wait to (hopefully) take back Congress in the fall, or we could find a more definitive way to make a legislative impact. While conservatives in the federal Congress keep us from passing all the progressive measures that will help us to succeed as a nation, the people we send to Beacon Hill could be passing all those measures and then some. But they aren’t.

Almost a year ago, a former representative came to speak to the Northampton High School Democrats about her experiences as a state legislator. A year later, I remember the emphasis she placed on how little gets done in the state Legislature, not because the senators and representatives don’t agree with each other, but because there is little pressure and publicity of what goes on at the statewide level.

Take bill H.3610. It was proposed more than a year ago, but was just sitting there not moving until we started pushing. Yet, there is so much potential for action on the statewide level — universal health care, a $15 minimum wage, comprehensive sex education, free community college. As I enter the world as a young adult, all of these things will aid me, my peers, and all of you immensely.

When we lost state Rep. Peter Kocot, we lost a champion for those in the 1st Hampshire District. Now we must fill that void. In smaller races, it is often hard to find information about candidates.

Fortunately, we have the opportunity to learn more about the platforms and policies of the candidates for both 1st Hampshire House seat and the Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester Senate seat vacated when Stanley Rosenberg resigned in May. Come to the candidates night from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Northampton High School auditorium where students will ask questions of those candidates so that the vote you cast can be as well-informed as possible.

I can’t vote until 2020, but I cannot emphasize enough the importance of casting an informed vote in your local Senate and House races this year. If we show up, together we can change our state for the better.

Tadea Martin-Gonzalez is a sophomore at Northampton High School and the co-chair of the Northampton High School Democrats.