Activist Tessa Yarbrough Passes Unanimous Anti-Corruption Resolution in Virginia
Who is Tessa Yarbrough? Tessa is a high school student at William Byrd High School in Virginia. In February of 2018, at the national Unrig the System summit, she and her mother Angela Yarbrough were honored with a Courage Award for their incredible activism. Tessa was honored as a developing leader in the anti-corruption movement.
Like many GenZ activists, Tessa understands that many issues facing the American people are tied to our broken political system. She is actively taking matters into her own hands—and is working collaboratively with community partners to pass laws to fix it.
A Path to Activism – Democracy Spring
This is a multigenerational story of love and advocacy. In 2016 Angela and Tessa participated in Democracy Spring. They walked over 140 miles from Philly to DC in 10 days to protest the corrupting influence of money in politics. They, along with hundreds of others, had vowed to sit on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, risking arrest in order to get their message out. Tessa was the only minor arrested that day. Separated from the others, she spent 12 hours in a holding cell before her release at 3am—to her very worried mother. Angela said that she and Tess knew the consequences, and that it was never a question that they would follow through to send an important message to the country. They walked, they risked arrest—and they’re an incredibly inspiring team.
So in 2016 Tessa was arrested, alongside her mother Angela Yarbrough, in the largest civil disobedience action of the 21st century – demanding an end to political corruption. For their extraordinary actions, they were presented with the inaugural Unrig Courage Award in 2018.
In an essay recently penned by Tessa herself, she explains how she got involved:
“Being at Unrig and going up on stage to accept the Courage Award was amazing; but even more inspiring was the experience that led to my receiving it. In April 2016, I participated in the Democracy Spring march from Philadelphia to D.C. My mom had asked me to come with her, and I said yes not so much out of dedication to the cause, but more because the 9-day, 140-mile march sounded like an adventure. But the experiences I had, knowledge I gained, and friends I made over the course of the march created in me a growing determination to remain part of the movement.
So I stayed—stayed and participated in the sit-ins at the Capitol, difficult as it was to convince my mom to let me—stayed ten hours in a jail cell—and I stayed an activist.”
As a result, Tessa started the William Byrd High School Democracy Matters Club at the start of the next school year. She has been working to raise awareness about money in politics – helping to solve the problem she has identified – ever since. She is collaborating with peers, community leaders, and especially Represent Roanoke, the local chapter of Represent.Us that was founded by her mother. The Represent Roanoke, VA chapter continues to be led by David and Ann Denham in collaboration with others across the state; a strong and unified voice in the state against corruption.
Young Activist Steps Up to the Plate
On June 5 2018, Tessa was the driving force behind passing an anti-corruption resolution through the Vinton, VA Town Council. The town council members are publicly nonpartisan, like Represent.Us members. The resolution was a nonpartisan call on Virginia’s state legislature for electoral and campaign finance reform, and it passed the town council unanimously, in a 5-0 vote. Tessa had been working closely with local community leaders, organizing fellow students, and speaking with town council officials for months in support of the resolution.
Represent.Us members are bringing together conservatives, progressives and everyone in between to pass anti-corruption laws in cities and states around the country. The Vinton resolution joined over 80+ others which have already been passed in cities and towns across the country, continuing to build momentum towards statewide and, ultimately, national reform.
The Impact: A New Generation of Politics
In telling the world about what motivates her, Tessa explains to us how every issue facing our nation is linked together. “It is impossible not to care deeply about this issue once you learn the scope of the consequences it has for the American people and the world. From the environment, to education, to foreign policy, to healthcare, to nearly every other matter of importance in the United States – money in politics drowns out the people’s voice, replacing it with corporate influence and resulting in bad policy that hurts the American people. I’m not going to quit this movement until this problem is fixed.”
If Tessa can do all this before she turns 20, imagine what she’ll accomplish over the course of her lifetime. Tessa is about to graduate high school in the Class of 2018 and will soon be in college at the University of Richmond, where she will continue her democracy reform activism. What does the future hold for Tessa? “My hope is that before I graduate, Richmond will be added to the growing list of cities taking a stand against corruption.”