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.
Rock the Vote launched its healthcare campaign last week allowing young people to write letters to their Senators, post testimonials, as well as upload photos holding, 'Yes We Care' signs. "Twenty two million Americans voted in the 2008 election, and they will continue to vote for those that represent their interests," the president of Rock the Vote, Heather Smith sent a reminder to politicians in a recent press release.
On Sept. 9, Rock the Vote kicks off a 30-second television spot featuring Scrubs television show stars Zach Braff and Donald Faison encouraging young people to make their voices louder. "Rock the Vote will run its TV spots on MTV, BET.com and Comedy Central in the next two weeks," Chrissy Faessen, the Vice-President of Rock the Vote said.
Meanwhile, outside of the non-profit organizing world, six former Obama volunteers were wondering why their friends who are passionate about healthcare reform were not a part of the debate that was taking place in the media over the summer. "We wanted to create a unified mechanism for young people to be heard and combat the narrative that we don't care about this issue," Ari Matusiak, the volunteer co-founder of Young Invincibles and a law student at Georgetown explains.
Matusiak and his five friends raised $500 to launch a website a few weeks ago. Within a a few days, 500 people had sent in their personal stories on why healthcare matters to them. They see their effort as just one more additional outlet that allows young people to talk to each other and share their stories. "Young Invincibles" will continue to gather these personal testimonials and will deliver them to Washington in the coming weeks.
Young adults, who account for 30 percent of the total uninsured population, are among the most likely group to lack health insurance. Medically indebted 18- to 34-year-olds had the highest level of credit card debt, according to a recent Demos study. A 2000 study by the University of California Board of Regents found that unpaid medical bills were the single leading cause of students dropping out of college. With so much at stake and health costs rising every year, youth organizers hope that young people will tune in to the various campaigns they are shifting into a high gear in the coming weeks.
Five Ways to Demand Healthcare:
1. "Staying informed and explaining this issue to your friends is absolutely crucial," says Matt Singer of Forward Montana. "Sign up for our Generation H Facebook page where we post stories explaining healthcare reform. Talk to your friends about this issue."
2. Chrissy Faessen, Vice President of Rock the Vote invites young people to sign their "Yes We Care" pledge cards. Rock the Vote asks young people to write letters to their Senators that they will deliver to the right representatives in Washington. Rock the Vote also suggests downloading their posters, taking photos holding them, and sending them in to their photo gallery.
3. Campus Progress suggests keeping up with their Funding Our Future blog to keep up with the latest updates in the healthcare debate, or signing up for their newsletter to find out about all upcoming campus events.
4. Ari Matusiak of Young Invincibles hopes young people will share their unfiltered, unedited story on why healthcare is important to them on their website, and they will deliver it to Washington.
5. "If there is no youth organizing groups in your town, join any group in your state," Singer adds. "Consider Health Care for America Now, Change That Works, Family That Works, Democracy in America. Or shoot us an email, and we'll help you find an organization." Email Forward Montana from their website.