This Iowa high-schooler is all about equality

Below is the transcript of a recent interview with Michael Adato. He is a senior at Waukee High School in central Iowa, Caucus secretary for the Senate Democrats of Iowa, Precinct Captain for the Bernie Sanders campaign, and organizer for Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. Adato is a prime example of a young, progressive voice that is knowledgeable and influential in the fight for equitable policy.

Q: Describe some of the ways you’ve been involved in politics, government, and advocacy.

A: Politically, I started out as a volunteer for Obama in 2012. I got involved in Bernie early on as a volunteer. I was then offered a position as a precinct captain for the campaign. Then, I was looking for more opportunity I got involved in Iowa CCI.

I started doing more advocacy with Iowa CCI. The first big thing was fighting the Polk County youth wage. This proposal allowed youth under age 18 to be paid only 75 percent of the minimum wage. They did not invite any young people. They held forums during the day so students were in school and could not go and voice their opinion. So, I organized students to attend meetings and demand that they deserve equal pay. The head, democratic Polk County Supervisor proposed this. People got dragged out of meetings by police. The bill was passed at paying 85% instead of 75% for the youth wage. We were successful in bumping it up 10 percent.

I also protested against the Dakota Access pipeline here in Iowa a little bit. Nothing substantial.

I played a large role in the protest action for Iowa CCI. We filled Sen. Chuck Grassley’s office in a sit-in that included the national NAACP president. This was in opposition to the appointment of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. I was on the leadership team for that action.

I’ve also advocated for immigrants and their rights within subcommittees of Iowa CCI.

Recently, I spoke at the Waukee school board meeting after they decided to not extend Waukee’s teacher contracts during the controversial collective bargaining bill. They did not discuss this with teachers at all and were the only major school district in the metro to not renew contracts. I advocated for my teachers from a student perspective that they have an equal say at the table.

Q: Why is it important for Generation Z to be engaged in public policy?

A: Right now, we have a problem where we have the elder generations picking our leaders for us. Look at the Democratic primary — 80% of millennials and generation Z supported Bernie Sanders. Note that the older generations don’t have more people, but they come out to vote more and thus have more influence. This is how they chose Hillary Clinton despite the young perspective opposing.

When the president does not consider education, LGBT, civil rights, and climate change a priority we must do something. We are the most diverse generation in history. We need to be protecting our minorities.

We also are going to experience the worst effects of climate change that we are already starting to see. We do not have the political power and representation we should while we are the ones taking all the hits. This is going to affect us directly if we don’t get involved and start using our influence in the political process.

Q: Politics can be heavy and bogging. What gives you hope for the future & motivation to move forward?

A: A couple different things. The first one is that our generation has been the most progressive generation in history. The most accepting and tolerant in history as well. Many studies and polls show that we care the most about making a difference in the world. Millennials are choosing lower paying jobs that make a difference in the world rather than climbing a corporate ladder.

Secondly, the pendulum always swings one direction before it comes back the other way. At some point, it will come back the other way. We will see a strong, progressive movement that will help the working class, environment, and rights of all.

Finally, I have a general faith in humanity. I strongly believe that when we come together despite all the division we can create the change we want to see. As more people become mobilized and educated in the political process that is how we create the world that we want to see.

Q: What are your views on a couple recent bills that have been passed in Iowa affecting students?

A: Education funding is currently proposed at 1.11%. 54 percent of school districts have a smaller budget with that number than they had the year before. We are giving less money than they got last year with growing costs. Education is obviously not a priority by the Republican party in Iowa. There will have to be cuts in extended-learning programs (ELP), special education, English language learners (ELL), extra-curricular activities, and smaller class sizes.

The minimum wage pre-antrum bill I discussed earlier. In places where minimum wage was raised, this will cut it back down to $7.25/hour and make it illegal to raise minimum wage unless the state legislative body raises it. This affects many students in urban areas such as Des Moines Public School where there is a higher percentage of free & reduced students in impoverished situations. They aren’t as affluent as the suburbs. Generally, they rely on higher than minimum wage salaries to survive while being given less opportunity. When we cut their wages, we’re stifling their growth. There are also raising college costs at the same time that we are not giving living wages to support them. How can these students even think of going to college? This also makes it illegal to ban plastic bags and create new civil rights laws, as if it wasn’t bad enough already.

Our teachers can’t talk to their employer about healthcare, holiday and vacation time, or about any aspect of their job benefits except for a basic minimum wage increase that has a capped wage increase. The collective bargaining bill has stripped teachers of their voice. This means teachers won’t be paid as much and new teachers will go to states other than Iowa. We are going to lose a lot of current talented and potential teachers because we won’t give them benefits for the job that they love. We’re already at a shortage of teachers. Gutting teacher unions will very adversely affect our students because talented teachers may be hollowed out for nearly a decade. Look at Wisconsin for example. They are hiring teachers without degrees because of such a shortage after they stripped unions and chose to give them no benefits. When you hurt our teachers you hurt our students.

Q: What role should public schools have in educating students about democracy and public servitude?

A: I think that we need to spend a lot more time talking about this. The U.S. has the lowest civic participation rate in the developed world. It’s embarrassing. Waukee does not teach students how to vote. You have to take government class and that’s a good thing. If we are not civically engaged and involved, we are letting other people make decisions for us. Public schools need to be mobilizing students. Students should decide what world they will live in. School is what informs us of what is going on and they should give us the tools to take action. American citizens should know how to use the rights they’ve been given.