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On Health Care, Youth Willing and Able, But White House Never Called

Quiet Agitators

New America Media, News Report, Annette Fuentes Posted: Sep 04, 2009

Angry mobs at the now-infamous town hall meetings on health care reform got voluminous coverage on evening news shows and even YouTube offerings, making stars out of the protestors. And overwhelmingly, the faces of the radical agitators singled out by news cameras were very much the same, no matter the geography. They were white, middle-aged or older Americans, railing against an imagined government take-over of health care and a slew of other policies championed by the Obama administration.

Where were the young activists who mobilized in record numbers to campaign for change and helped sweep Obama and a Democratic majority into power? To observers following the health care debate, youth have been conspicuous by their absence on the first crucial challenge to the new administration. Some have speculated that young people simply dont care about health care in the same passionate way that older people doperhaps because they are generally healthier and havent tangled with the health insurance bureaucracy yet. Certainly, the elders cry of, Dont touch my Medicare, wont resonate for the youth.

But the fact that young activists werent going toe-to-toe with graying anti-reformers doesnt mean health care is a low priority for them. The opposite is true, according to several recent surveys. And youth are out organizing in support of reforms, knocking on doors and connecting onlineout of sight of cable news cameras. Some of that activism has been ongoing, but much of it is only recently kicking into high gear in response to the conservative backlash against Obamas agenda and as college students return to their campuses, say organizers at several state and national groups.

If young people havent been visible enough, the fault also lies in part with the Obama administration and the Democratic Party, which failed to mobilize them early to keep the election momentum rolling, say several organizers.

I think its true, says Mike Connery, 31, founder of FutureMajority.com and author of Youth to Power: How Todays Young Voters Are Building Tomorrows Progressive Majority. Young people arent playing as large a role in the debate as they should be.

Connery says one reason is that this is an off-year for political campaigns, and the organizations that brought young people to the polls last fall are now short staffed and short on money. Another reason is that young people are often covered by their parents health insurance plans and arent directly affected. He also points a finger at the White House and its organizing arm.

I dont see Organizing for America making an explicit appeal to young people, he said. They are not sending a targeted appeal to young people to drive home that this is really important in the short and long term. Without that, its hard to get them to these events. Unlike state efforts, Organize for America has the resources and reach to counter the conservative push, Connery notes, but it did not do that.

A pair of polls this summer gives lie to the idea that young people are indifferent about health care reform and highlights a stark contrast on the issue with older Americans. An Aug. 5 survey from CNN found that among those polled, a majority of those under 50 support the Obamas proposals, and a majority of those over 50 oppose them. Opponents of reform also were more likely to attend those town hall meetings than supporters, which explains in part why there was more shouting than discussion.

Two weeks later, a poll by SurveyUSA found that health care reform rates high on everybodys radar, whatever the age. Of people 18 to 24, 59 percent said they were paying a lot of attention to the debate, while among those aged 60 to 69, 85 percent were paying a lot of attention. That high level of interest held across race and ethnicity, with 75 percent of both whites and blacks and 66 percent of Hispanics paying a lot of attention.

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