MS – Dylan Alter

Dylan Alter

2006 Mario Savio Student Activist Award Honoree

Spend five minutes with Dylan and you will become aware that she is a young woman who is unusually thoughtful, sensitive, warm and articulate, as well as committed. Dylan states, “I can’t conceive of a life where I wasn’t trying to make other people’s lives better,” and attributes the roots of her commitment to her family, both to the persecution and oppression that her Native American and Jewish grandparents experienced and to the examples of social responsibility that they and her parents set for her.

Dylan can remember writing letters about protecting the environment and lowering the voting age to nine while still in elementary school. At Maria Carrillo High School in Santa Rosa, she and her friend Leslie Loy created a student-run, student-owned newspaper called SOLID, to give a voice to the youth of the county. Students from a majority of high schools in Sonoma County staffed the paper. Leslie noted that despite being a co-founder of the group, Dylan never pulled rank but was able to lead in a manner that allowed everyone to manifest their abilities.

When parents protested the participation of a gay rights group in Diversity Day at the high school, Dylan was instrumental in forming a gay-straight alliance. She became a peer advocate, participating in panel discussions throughout the county on the problems of gay youth, such as bullying and rejection. In that role a particular concern was to create a safe space for questions from gay and non-gay youth alike.

Dylan attended Sonoma State University where she was a liberal studies major in the Hutchins program. She became an intern for Project Censored. When the U.S. started to bomb Iraq, Dylan got involved in anti-war efforts. She became a trainer in techniques of civil disobedience and non-violent protest and gave instructions on how to form political affinity groups. She helped organize the North Bay Spokes Council, a local coalition of anti-war affinity groups as well as being involved in the greater Bay Area spokescouncils.

Motivated to learn about international issues by her high school experience in a Global Young Leader’s conference, Dylan went to South America for a semester and worked with a program called Leap Now on environmental and poverty issues, as well as with Habitat for Humanity. Although Dylan had chosen South America because her parents thought it would be safe, she found herself right in the middle of a people’s revolution when the Bolivians began protesting the privatization of their water resources to Bechtel. It was a tremendous education.

Returning home, Dylan continued her social activism, volunteering for the Sonoma County Needle Exchange Program and becoming a leadership trainee in Seeking Common Ground, which works to facilitate dialogue between Israeli, Palestinian and American young women. That two-weeks of dialogue could, “get life-long enemies to acknowledge one another’s right to exist,” was “mind-blowing” and has strongly influenced the direction she is moving in.

Dylan has volunteered with the ACLU, interning in the Northern California office, serving on the board of the Sonoma County chapter, and representing the chapter at the ACLU-NC board meetings. She also participates in Sonoma County Cop Watch, monitoring arrests and leading “know your rights” training at local schools, activities she is still involved with. She currently heads the campaign to stop the death penalty and is a long time volunteer with Food Not Bombs, feeding the hungry poor in the county.

Dylan graduated from Sonoma State Magna Cum Laude and her teachers have written glowing recommendations about both her work and her character, noting her outstanding leadership skills and her potential for effecting change. Dr. Francisco Vasquez, who worked closely with Mario Savio in the Hutchins program and on the fight against Proposition 187 wrote that he believes Dylan personifies the qualities that characterized Mario, noting particularly her “fierce commitment to the balance between scholarship and social justice.”

Dylan will soon be heading off to law school. Her concerns with communication and dialogue between people with diverse histories and diverse, apparently conflicting interests, leads her to be particularly drawn to those fields of law that are moving away from the traditional adversarial approach to solving human problems: mediation, alternative justice programs, “truth and reconciliation commissions” and the like. Her friend Leslie has written that Dylan “lives by her own rules and they are simple: live with compassion and never stop hoping.”