Students advocate for social justice causes

Rachel Kaplan

On February 3, 18 students from the Social Justice/Non-Violence class got a unique opportunity to visit the state capitol. Taking part in the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition’s “Day on the Hill,” about half of the Social Justice class joined with four other students interested in advocating for causes such as homelessness, health care, poverty, job security, and state budgets.

“I wanted to make a change,” said junior Liam Brew who signed up for the all-day field trip even though he already took the class first semester. In preparation for the trip, the class wrote and researched position papers on different issues and prepared for talks with state legislators.
“More valuable than having a chance to voice our opinions is having a chance to learn how things [in the state legislature] work hands-on. We’ll be right there,” said junior Drew Frenz in anticipation of the event. The class knew ahead of time that tensions would be high because of Minnesota’s $5.2 billion budget deficit.

Boarding the bus and arriving at the St. Paul River Centre at about 8:30 a.m., the students joined over 850 other citizens who had traveled from all over the state to take part in the event, including students from other Catholic high schools such as St. Thomas Academy and the Academy of Holy Angels as well as ordinary citizens. “[The large attendance] shows interface, unity, and commitment to the common good,” said speaker Mr. Brian Rusche from the JRLC, who has been leading the event for 20 years.

After an opening prayer, the keynote speaker, Dr. Ingrid Mattson, the first woman president of the Islamic Society of North America, addressed overcoming tough issues, making connections with child labor, civil war, and the inaugaration of Barack Obama. “We need great conviction to tackle…such issues,” she said, “We are our own rulers.”

Then students discussed issues in their legislative district tables, making plans for meeting with legislators later in the day.

Taking shuttles to the State Capitol, the Interfaith Social Justice Awards took place and students were given two hours to meet with legislators, explore the capitol building, and attend legislative meetings on topics like Transportation, Health, and Commerce. “We really got to see the inner workings of the legislature during the committee meetings, which ended up being way more fun than any of us expected,” said junior Maddy Gallagher.