ST. HELENA — At age 16, Larkin Dewyer is proving that you don’t need to be an adult to flex your democratic muscles and effect change.
A junior, Dewyer serves as vice president of St. Helena High School’s Students for Change club, organized the school’s Rock the Congress event in May, interns for Congressman Mike Thompson, worked with Blue Wave Napa Valley to support Democratic congressional candidates, and successfully lobbied the City Council to suspend St. Helena’s 10 p.m. youth curfew.
Dewyer considers herself a feminist and has always been interested in politics. The 2016 election, the stark contrasts between Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump, and a wave of student activism that followed the February 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida convinced her that she was part of a generation that was going to bring about dramatic change, and she wanted to be part of it.
“Change starts at the local level,” Dewyer said. “You can’t go out and change the world right away – it’s a process. It’s important to start local and better your own community before you can better others.”
A Rock the Congress event in Napa inspired her to organize a similar gathering at St. Helena High School. With only three weeks of preparation, organizers booked a panel of activists and politicians, including Thompson, and attracted more than 100 people. Dewyer reached out to businesses like Robert Mondavi Winery and Gott’s, which donated items for a silent auction.
Julie Jenanyan, founder of Blue Wave Napa Valley, invited Dewyer to serve on her steering committee. The organization raised more than $57,000 for three candidates, who were each elected to Congress in the Nov. 6 election.
Dewyer’s activism also impressed Thompson and his staff. The St. Helena congressman named her as one of the 2018 Student Leaders of the Year in Napa County, and in September she started an internship in his Napa office.
Once a week, Dewyer sifts through letters and emails to Thompson, answers phones, and directs constituents with questions or concerns to the appropriate staff member.
As someone who plans to study law and political science and maybe run for office someday, Dewyer said it’s “fascinating to see how politics works on the inside.”
In November, she stood before the City Council and argued for the elimination of St. Helena’s 10 p.m. youth curfew, drawing praise from council members who agreed to suspend it.
Students had previously raised the issue during an Oct. 17 mayoral debate between Alan Galbraith and Geoff Ellsworth at St. Helena High School. Dewyer’s fellow students chose her to speak for them when it came before the full council.
With guidance from AP history teacher Evan Blasingame, Dewyer researched constitutional law to challenge the curfew on legal grounds and attacked its effectiveness based on crime statistics she found in an online database.
She was struck by stats showing that in 2015 – the most recent year for which data was available – only six juveniles were arrested in American Canyon, which has no curfew. Meanwhile, 60 juveniles were arrested in Napa, which does have a curfew. Even factoring in Napa’s higher population, the stats suggested to her that Napa’s curfew wasn’t reducing its juvenile crime rate.
Making her case in front of the council “was intimidating, but I’m glad I did it,” Dewyer said.
Once the council takes formal action to suspend the curfew, Dewyer hopes her peers will act responsibly in exercising their new privilege.
“It’s a trial period, so we don’t want to abuse it, because if we do (the council) will probably put it back into place,” she said.
Dewyer is eager to work with the Students for Change club on more events this year, like a second annual Rock the Congress or an event focusing on college tuition. She’s also applied to get involved in the Youth Empower Coalition organized by the Women’s March.
After her junior year is over, she wants to get a summer internship in Sacramento or Washington, D.C. She hopes to keep working in Thompson’s office too.
Once she graduates, she wants to major in political science, possibly minor in psychology, and pursue a career in law and politics. She said she would love to run for local office someday.
She advises younger students who are becoming politically aware to form clubs, go to marches, and plan events. Her own parents support her activism, but she realizes that not every student is that lucky.
“Don’t let people tell you that your opinion isn’t right,” she said. “Stand up for what you believe in, and not just for what your parents believe in.”