By Kristina Rizga
Even before last November’s election, young adults listed healthcare among their top three issues. That compelled a gathering of over 40 youth groups convened by Generational Alliance in November of 2008 to put healthcare at the top of their collective agenda. Now, Generational Alliance members plan to host 16 events in 8 different states to raise the volume of youth voices.
Despite this enthusiasm, as non-profit youth groups tried to get funding to channel the youth energy inspired by the Obama campaign into healthcare reform, funding for many of them didn’t come through. Young organizers blame some of the problem on the recession, but some of it they cite as an oversight by the foundation world. "It’s a huge tactical mistake since this is the most supportive demographic for healthcare reform," Matt Singer, 26, CEO and founder of Forward Montana, a youth-based group in Missoula, explains referring to a recent poll by SurveyUSA.
But despite the lack of funding, organizing is now accelerating.
Youth organizers are using the same tactics that proved effective during elections — facilitating peer-to-peer events, discussions and sharing of articles, online organizing, and use of positive messaging. "The hyper-partisan spectacles of the town hall meetings, which got so much attention, are just not an attractive venue for young people," Thomas Bates, a Rock the Vote spokesman was quoted saying in Los Angeles Times.
"What appeals to young people is hopeful optimism and discussion about solutions," Singer explains. As an example, he mentions the popular Facebook campaign last week where over 800,000 young people posted a message, ‘No one should die because they can’t afford health care, and no one should go broke because they get sick. If you agree, please post this as your status for the rest of the day.’ "This kind of positive, friendly and pro-reform messaging clearly appeals to young people more."
Singer and his allies have knocked on over 10,000 doors this year, often dressed as doctors and physicians, and they find that young people are eager to discuss the different reform options put out by Congress. "The media is not doing a good job explaining how these policy proposals will impact the lives of young people."
Campus Progress, a youth-arm of the DC-based Center for American Progress, teamed up with Generational Alliance to put together a national youth online forum that they hope President Obama will participate in. Campus Progress has been keeping its members engaged this year through blogging, reporting and public forums with Howard Dean and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebellius.
"This fall we will be pushing hard to demand reform and work to lift the youth voice," Natasha Bowens, the Advocacy Associate of Campus Progress, said. They are planning healthcare events on the campuses in Iowa, Connecticut, and Oregon in September.