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Our time to shine

BY SIMEON TALLEY | OCTOBER 01, 2009 7:20 AM

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We’ve already written about the pros and cons of health-care reform in this paper. And I argued in a previous column that young people stand to gain significantly — if not the most — from health-care reform that increases access, affordability, and quality to more Americans. Yet there are still rumblings on Capitol Hill that young people just aren’t engaged in this important debate. That young people don’t care because they aren’t personally affected by this issue.

Well, that’s not true. The youth are uninsured at higher rates, likely to be dropped from existing insurance, and are experiencing all types of economic problems. But, nonetheless, doubts remain and seem to be growing louder.

Many have asked where the young people have gone after the election of President Barack Obama. They played a critical role from the very beginning of the presidential campaign. But now they have seemed to disappear from politics. Was it just a fluke? When will they come back? Will they ever come back?

These are not inconsequential questions. The skeptics have created an environment in which young peoples’ voices are undervalued.

The unfortunate reality is that if policymakers feel that the youth have tuned out, they may be willing to sacrifice pieces of health-care reform most advantageous to young people in the final bill.

At a local level, many don’t believe that students will turn out in any significantly measurable way in the Oct. 6 City Council at-large primary. Despite three UI students being on the ballot, many aren’t expecting you, the student, to turn out.

I don’t write this to perpetuate divisions or stereotypes but to challenge students. To challenge students to prove those who are counting on you not to be engaged in the political process wrong. I challenge you to think more deeply about what your responsibilities and obligations are to each other and your community.

It’s easy — and happens all too often — to label students as disengaged, apathetic, and unwilling to participate in meaningful ways. You’ll hear that in Iowa City, and you’ll hear that on Capitol Hill.

But you know that’s far from the truth. Students are balancing and navigating a myriad of responsibilities, anxieties, hopes, fears, and, yes, fun. This generation is engaged more than any other in environmental activism. If Congress mirrored the opinions of every 18- to 29-year-old on climate change, we’d be well on our way to reducing carbon emissions.

Those who doubt whether young people are still engaged and tuned in are challenging you as well. They are challenging you to make them hear you, to make them see you. They are challenging you to make enough noise that they can’t avoid you and must address you.

Special-interest groups on both sides are pouring money into the health-care debate, either to defeat or to enable its passage. Tea-baggers, birthers, and 9/12-ers have flooded town halls over the summer and marched in our nation’s capital in an effort to influence the debate.

While no one expects you to drop a check for $2,000 to support your favorite political cause, there are things you can do to make your voice heard.

You can call or write your member of Congress. You can get involved with an advocacy organization that you agree with. And on Oct. 6, you can vote in the City Council primary. If enough students vote, they can have a real impact on their community.


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