Becker’s Law-How One Guy Can Change Things

High School Senior Sam Becker is on a mission. He spent his year collecting thousands of signatures from citizens, organizing a committee, meeting with local political players, and speaking to the city council. All in order to make a change.

Before all this Becker cleaned the Bear Creek Greenway, a creek constantly trashed with beer cans and shopping carts, yet lined with green plants and a rippling current that reflects the sunlight. Becker explained, “One of the things I continuously noticed was the amount of poly styrene foam (PSF) food containers.” He went on, “not only did I notice it on the Bear Creek Greenway, I noticed it on public parks, roads, as well as floating down waterways such as bear creek, and this inspired me to do some research on PSF’s, and I found out that it has a wide array of harmful effects on our health, our environment, wildlife, and our local economy. Therefore I decided to spearhead an initiative to ban it within the city of Medford.”

Becker took an Advanced Placement (AP) government class and learned about the city’s initiative process. Becker thought “okay this is definitely a way I can go about banning polystyrene foam within the city of Medford.” He then set out to pass an initiative to ban PSF’s for some restaurants.

Almost completely on his own Becker created a bank account, formed a committee and went out petitioning. He and a few others collected 3800 signatures within a few months.

After presenting the city with the 3800 signatures collected the tide turned on him. “It turns out that 32 percent of those signatures were rejected for a few reasons; many people weren’t residents of the city of Medford, many people weren’t registered to vote, and many people signed multiple times so that took away.” The burden of collecting about a 1000 signatures in a very short time may have stopped a lot of people, but it didn’t stop Becker. Becker said, “I pretty much spent my whole winter break petitioning so I ended up actually gathering around 1099 signatures in two and half weeks.”

After turning in the signatures it was time for Becker to present his initiative to the city council. With his hair combed back and a tucked in white shirt Becker talked to the council for over ten minutes. The council postponed making a decision until they could hear a response from local businesses. Then on February 5, 2015 after an 11 month long fight, Becker’s initiative was up for vote in the city council. The council unanimously voted to pass it. “It was a very pleasant surprise. I thought maybe there was chance that the city council would pass it, but I did not think it would pass unanimously”, said Becker of his victory.

When asked about what inspires him to fight for green politics Becker said “I would say first of all definitely my parents specifically my dad, he was a huge inspiration to me in many senses, he actually passed away in August after a battle with cancer, so he never got to see the hard work that I was putting in come to fruition, but I’m sure he would’ve loved it. And also from my AP environmental class,” which “galvanized my desire to help the environment become a little bit healthier in every sense, and so I think the desire to actually make the environment that we live in livable and profitable for future generations also drives me a lot.”

Becker dreams of going to college next year to study political science and environmental studies. He hopes to become an environmental attorney someday.

The PSF initiative was a success for Becker but he is not satisfied. Becker said “I view this as a small step in the right direction and just kind of a conversation starter.” Becker hopes to implement similar initiatives in neighboring towns and to make the ban statewide.

Whether or not Becker’s law will gain favor in other jurisdictions is yet to be seen. Ashland, Eugene, and Portland have all passed similar laws. Becker plans on reaching out to Senator Bates, Rep. Buckley, and Talent mayor Darby Stricker for guidance with implementing the PSF ban in other places.