I may not look like you, but my voice counts, too

By Emma Buktenica of Corvallis, Oregon. Emma describes herself as "an Oregon native who's in love with my state. Grew up in the country, lived in Portland for three years before ending up in Corvallis."

I attended the I-5 Bridge Replacement Project hearing last week because I believe in civic duty (n. The responsibilities of a citizen). Many people were unable to attend the hearing, understandably since it was at 3 p.m. on a weekday, but I hope that they at least took the step of writing their legislative representatives to make their opinion known. I am 24 years old, the youngest person to testify on February 11th, and I know that if the Oregon Legislature approves House Bill 2800, I will be paying for it for the next forty years. With that being the case, civic duty pushed me to make sure I educated myself on the issue and the options before ensuring that my voice was heard. I wrote to my representatives, and I showed up at the hearing ready to testify, if only to say, "This plan is the worst."

I sat in HR-E for four hours, watching others testify. I'm not going to go into the "pro" and "con" arguments, there are plenty of articles you can read (I suggest this one to start), and I hope you do. This project doesn't just affect people who live in Portland and Vancouver: it affects both states as a whole. As I watched the hearing on the pull-down projection screen in the overflow room, what struck me most was the demographic of the witnesses (after all, I had researched both sides of the issue pretty well, so the testimony itself wasn't surprising): overwhelmingly male, overwhelmingly Caucasian, and seriously skewed toward people over the age of 45.

By the time my turn came to speak, my ire was raised. This is my future they're arguing over! I know that the 18 to 24-year-old demographic is the least likely to vote, and the least likely to get involved. At this hearing, it seemed to me that, in the absence of young people, these elected officials had forgotten that they are accountable to EVERYONE, not just the people that look like them, or pay for their campaigns. I have twenty tattoos, seven piercings (ears, nose, lip) and a shaved head. I do not look like any of the sixteen senators or representatives on the committee, nor do I look like any of the other people who testified. I am, however, active in politics, starting as a page in the Oregon House of Representatives when I was 16, then as a delegate in the 2008 primary elections, and most recently as a campaign volunteer during the 2012 Portland mayoral race. I will not be written off as a crazy radical because of my appearance or my youth.

When I sat down in front of the committee, my heart was racing, and my voice was so shaky with nerves that it sounded like I was on the verge of tears. I had nothing written down and nothing prepared; there had been enough facts and statistics, it was time for someone to speak from their heart. Making eye contact with every person sitting above me, I told them that the proposed bridge was an expensive mistake that my generation would have to pay for. I said that I love my state, and I feel lucky to have been born into such beauty; Oregonians are known for going out of their way to protect nature at the expense of convenience (see: former governor Bob Straub). This current bridge plan is being pushed so quickly because of the convenience of now, and against all historical precedents. I reminded the committee of the truth: no matter what plan the state decides on, whether it's reinforcing the current bridge or building multiple other bridges over the Columbia River to take traffic off the I-5 bridge, most of the people who had testified would be retired by the time any plan was finished and paid for. People of my generation are not known for showing up, but that doesn't mean that we don't pay taxes and it doesn't mean that we're blind to the world around us. I am proud of being an Oregonian, and looking right at co-chair Senator Lee Beyer (D-Springfield) I said that their legacy will be my future, and it is their responsibility to make sure that it's something I can be proud of.

So I didn't go into why I think the current proposed CRC plan is terrible, and I didn't use any of the information I had collected during my research of various solutions to the problem. But I like to think that, after four hours of logic from men in the 50 to 88-year-old group, a short but passionate speech from a young woman might have reminded the committee members of their civic duty to every single one of their constituents.

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