MIDDLEBURY, Vt. - To help give voice to young adults and galvanize their activism in the face of global warming, federal debt and questionable congressional ethics, two Middlebury students have launched The Young Americans Fund (TYAF), an innovative organization that is reaching out to campuses across the nation.
Sophomores Derek Schlickeisen and Mario Ariza, both political science majors, worked together during the summer of 2006 to create the political advocacy group, hoping to help focus attention on public policy problems they believe will have a negative impact on the lives of future generations. As part of the fund's effort, they have released its Young Americans Scorecard for the 109th Congress. According to Ariza, it is the first scorecard ever developed to evaluate members of the United States Congress on inter-generational issues.
The students' initiative has gained the interest of a number of newspapers and radio stations, from The St. Louis Dispatch to Vermont's WNYV FM. Their next radio interview will be with hosts Brenda Michaels and Rob Spears on Seattle's "Conscious Talk," a morning show that regularly hosts academic and progressive leaders from across the country. The show, airing from 9:20-10 a.m., will interview Schlickeisen and Ariza on Thursday, Oct. 19.
"Young people may be tuned out on the political process, but decisions that will determine our quality of life as adults are being made today. The time is now to engage America's youth and stand up for our future," said Schlickeisen, who is president of TYAF. "With this endeavor, we're addressing the three biggest public policy problems that will have a major impact on future generations. From running up the national debt to aggravating the threat of global warming, short-sighted lawmakers are promoting policies for which today's young pay dearly."
Schlickeisen, who is from Washington, D.C., has found it hard to stand idly by while an older generation of law-makers seems to be governing with a short-term view of his future. "I've been around congressional politics my whole life, and am old enough to see that the system doesn't represent me well. I want to stand up for myself and my generation in today's political process," he said. "The time is right to do something meaningful to help other young people take some measure of control over our future."
Last summer, he and Ariza filed paperwork with the I.R.S., opened a bank account for TYAF, and began contacting potential donors. They have raised more than $16,000 so far, and expect to reach $20,000 by the end of the year.
After launching TYAF, Schlickeisen and Ariza announced their plan to educate constituents about the records of particularly responsible - as well as particularly reckless - members of Congress in statewide, issue-advocacy campaigns this fall. On Sept. 19, the organization released its Young Americans Scorecard for the 109th Congress, with complete information on members' votes on global warming, the national debt, and congressional ethics reform. A final percentage was calculated for each member based on 11 recorded votes in the Senate and 12 recorded votes in the House of Representatives. In choosing which issues and votes to score, the students selected those likely to have an impact on future generations that would be both significant and extremely hard to reverse. On the TYAF Web site at www.youngamericansfund.org, members of the public can find their representatives and senators by state to learn more about their voting records.
"Our scorecard includes a balanced selection of the most relevant and significant votes on these issues," said Ariza, who is the organization's policy director. "Never before have members of Congress been rated on their commitment to the long-term quality of life of young Americans and future generations. Our group's sole focus on the inter-generational significance of policymaking should provide a fresh and much-needed perspective. We hope that constituents will take this opportunity to let their elected representatives know how they feel about their records in Congress."
Plans for the TYAF campaign consist of extensive state media outreach and Web advertisements on sites that appeal to young people, including TheFacebook.com and numerous blogs. The fund is a member of the New Progressive Coalition, and hopes to continue to work with that organization to become a resource for others such as Rock the Vote and MTV. According to Schlickeisen, their Web campaign will be the first to target college students with information on inter-generational congressional policy - policy that will have a greater impact on the younger generation's future than it will on the future of the generation now creating the policy. "We hope to establish TYAF as a resource for young people, to be the go-to, nonpartisan resource concerned with these issues," Schlicheisen said.
Schlickeisen and Ariza's goal is to have raised $50,000 heading into 2008, which will pay for a TYAF print and drive-time radio advertising campaign in the districts of elected representatives whose policies the two students believe to have questionable merit in the long-term.