Y & G addressing the crowd.
Photo courtesy of Jim Kirtley

Maryam Zar Takes a Look at the YMCA Youth & Government Program

By MARYAM ZAR | Contributing Writer

It is undeniable that the last few years have ushered in an unprecedented amount of youth interest in policy and politics. Regardless of the diversity of points of view along the American political spectrum, American youth are engaged in droves on the narratives that can impact the policies that will shape their future.

Programs across the nation which seek to kindle an interest in policy narratives on the part of young people are thriving, and no where do we see that better than right here in Pacific Palisades, with our own local YMCA Youth & Government program.

Y & G is a more than 70-year-old statewide high school program through the Y. Students meet weekly to discuss current events, debate and learn about California legislature.

Last week, the Palisades Y delegation that will go to Sacramento in February to present its final set of bills to the State Assembly had a Bill Presentation Night at Palisades Charter High School’s Mercer Hall. The purpose of this exercise was to help prepare the delegates for Sacramento.

More than 160 students participated in the program and more than a handful of students presented their bills to a packed house. On hand were speakers advocating on behalf or against each proposed bill, and a legislative analyst to present the fiscal impact to the state.

Each presenter took questions from the audience—some of which were truly probing and tough to address. The delegation Chair Deven Radfar and Parliamentarian Kian Farhadel presided over the meeting—which was all done impressively professionally. From time to time, when the crowd got too rowdy, they would call, “Decorum!”

I was sitting in a panelist’s chair and for a few precious moments, thought I was witnessing something similar to the Constitutional Convention (the subject of a Marquez Charter Elementary School production just weeks ago).

My fellow panelists included Bill Simon, Palisadian extraordinaire, and Chad Molnar, Councilmember Mike Bonin’s chief of staff. The purpose of the panelists was to provide critical feedback to help strengthen the bill presenters’ arguments and hone their presentation skills.

Our panel was a diverse set with different points of view, and a broad gaze upon the strengths and weaknesses of each presentation and argument. Molnar is a political veteran, having managed several campaigns for congress and the state legislature, including for Congresswoman Jane Harmon; and Simon is a former GOP nominee for CA governor and former assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York under Rudy Giuliani.

In the end, the kids impressed us infinitely and presented bills that ranged in subject matter from birth control to sun block. Some bills passed by a clear voice vote. Some bills sounded very much like they hung in the balance and one bill failed.

One of the most interesting debates swirled around the issue of privacy and technology. Decades ago, when I was a young law student, I was taught technology law as an emerging body of case law that had not yet reached the critical mass to be a course, but a side note—with the awareness that this area of law was fast forming before our very eyes.

Watching high schoolers today argue the nuances of click-assent and the relationship between the user’s expectation of privacy and their various smart devices, and how that may intersect with the guarantees of the Fourth Amendment, was truly riveting.

Students argued that the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures applied to the distribution of personal digital data. Panelist Simon argued that this was rooted in the right to privacy and I argued there was an assumption of risk inherent in modern digital use.

Molnar helped the students understand what lawmakers and legislators at the state may look for in their arguments and how to defend against critics.

All together, it was enlivening to be part of this process and I hope everyone walked away as proud as I was to be part of a robust American civic system, watching the seeds of public service being planted early.

Kudos to the Y and to the students for embracing this beautiful democracy!