Friday, April 3, 2009

Watch the Money & Defend Your Title

Many are calling the fight over the economy the fight for our future – and it indeed is. But it is also the fight over our political present. Do young people, the most promising, newly respected voting block, and in particular, the young progressives that propelled President Obama into office, still have the power? And can we keep it through the first substantive political battle of the new Administration?

If the rhetoric around newly engaged voters during the election was “You don’t vote. You never do.”, it’s very easy for the post election assumption, even after we voted in record numbers, to be an extension of that same message: “So you voted. You won’t stay involved and engaged. You won’t actually hold your elected officials accountable.”

The minute you win the title, even with a TKO, there’s someone coming for your spot.

It will be easy for underrepresented communities to be written off (again) if we remain silent during the debate over the budget and the distribution of the stimulus money.

The economy isn’t just Obama’s first challenge. It’s ours. The stimulus and the budget are our first opportunity to substantially weigh in on a contentious policy debate, the outcome of which will directly impact us and generations to come.

It's time to flex our new found political muscle by paying attention and speaking up.

There’s no doubt we’re paying attention to the crisis: It’s blasted all over every newspaper, magazine, blog, tv show, and paycheck. We see it with our unemployed family members, our friends dropping out of school, and our coworker that’s working three jobs to get by. So we do the easiest thing to do when we’re suffering: Shout loudly about what’s wrong. But are we being just as loud about how to make it right?

For a demographic of people that popular culture thinks can’t balance a checkbook and is drowning in debt, it’s a difficult issue to start off with. Not only is economic philosophy complicated, the idea of cracking open a 150 page copy of the budget isn’t at the top of my list of “fun things to do”. In fact, I know firsthand from being on Capitol Hill that there are freshmen Congresspeople who don’t even understand all of the ins and outs of the process.

But let’s at least find out the basics (how does all of this work and who are the major players) and then, perhaps the most important part, get some key messages and spread them like the chickenpox. Key messages are simply core ideas that support your position. So for example, one key message for me, as someone in favor of the President’s budget, is:

We need a budget that supports improving education, reforming health care, and investing in clean energy. The President’s version invests in the change we voted for and we demand that Congress protect those priorities.

Take that message, or any other that represents your own position, and get to work. Blog about it, call in to local radio stations…and the if-you-do-nothing-else-please-do-this step: Call/email your congressperson. It’s easy, effective, and if you do it once, you’ll be hooked.

Political power is all about participation and you’re only as good as your last fight. If we don’t make our voices heard now, not only could we lose the potential for bold, aggressive economic decisions that pay for what we want, we lose some of the political respect that we fought so hard for and deserve.

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