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  • Elizabeth Braatz

Civic Engagement: The Time is Now

Updated: Nov 3, 2022

My name is Elizabeth Braatz, my pronouns are she/her, and I am currently a graduate student in the Masters of Public Policy program at Portland State University. How I ended up where I am today has been interesting to say the least. I received my Bachelor’s of Science in Criminal Justice at Western Oregon University, and when I was 18 years old, I intended to become a police officer. As a young teen, I lived through the murders of Tamir Rice (12), Trayvon Martin (17) and many more. I knew that what happened to them was not right, and it served as a fiery passion within my heart, to change how communities saw law enforcement. During spring break of my sophomore year, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the world, and I moved back home with my parents. During the year of 2020, George Floyd was murdered, everyone around the world saw, and I believe it opened a gateway to show the bare bones and structures of policing in America. My fiery passion quickly changed from entering the police force to becoming a civil rights attorney; however, I did not want to spend four more years and hundreds of thousands of dollars getting my judicial doctorate at that time in my life. During my junior and senior year of my undergraduate degree, I began getting involved in testifying on legislation at the Oregon State Capitol. It became a deep passion of mine and opened my world to the importance and imperativeness of sustainable and tangible policies. During my time as an undergraduate student, I served in many memorable leadership positions that helped equip me with skills and resources that helped me evolve into a strong leader and representative of student voices, as well as people from marginalized and minority communities.

Civic engagement has become the most important thing to me, and I believe it should be just as important to everyone else. If you have the ability and opportunity to vote, it is vital that you cast your vote, because every vote counts. In tangent to voting, it is equally if not more important to educate yourself so that you can develop your own opinions and beliefs that will then shape how you cast your vote. Oftentimes people are under the assumption the most powerful person in the world is the President of the United States, when in fact, some of the greatest policy changes are done at the state and local levels. Whether you get involved in school board elections or are voting for the next President of the United States, make sure you do your own research, or talk amongst friends and family, to continue expanding your understanding, knowledge, and involvement in civic engagement.

My passion for civic engagement actually started when I was 12 years old. I began volunteering at the food bank in my town, and I fell in love with the work I did there. I met so many amazing people that are still a part of my life at 22 years old. When I graduated high school in 2018, I was the very first student to varsity letter in volunteerism. In order to obtain a varsity letter in volunteerism, I had to complete over a hundred hours of volunteer opportunities. In college, I continued on to serve in leadership positions, served as an ambassador for the annual Congress to Campus event(s), and by the time I graduated in 2022, I had accumulated seven annual university awards: Residence Hall Association Member of the Year, Black Student Union Member of the Year, Associated Students of Western Oregon University Senator of the Year, Residential Living Leadership Medallion, Maurice Challenge Winner (2022), and the Klush Tum Tum award, which I made history with as the youngest recipient. This summer (2022), I can confidently say my greatest accomplishment was receiving the John Lewis Youth Leadership Award for the state of Oregon. It is awarded by the Secretary of State in each state, and I had the immense honor of being a recipient for the state of Oregon. My accomplishments, awards, and recognition were never a part of my vision when I began my journey within civic engagement and public policy, I was just a young girl who wanted to change the world.

This November, please get out and vote and have your voice heard. Each of us is an integral part of making this world a better place.

Elizabeth Braatz is an INCIGHT Scholar and graduate student at Portland State University in the Program of Public Policy.

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