CNN's poll released yesterday shows a striking generational divide over support of Obama's health care plan, with the reform being significantly more popular among young people than among adults over the age of 50. Nevertheless, every day I try new responses to those that ignorantly assume I don't care about health care reform because I'm under 30 and supposedly invincible.
I could tell them that health care reform is my fight because my partner, 25 years old, is an entrepreneur, consultant, and all around brilliant guy who cares more about professional fulfillment than financial gain and has thus been without insurance for 3 years. I've cried myself to sleep many a night over his lack of coverage, terrified that at any moment, an illness or accident could push us into financial ruin in the beginning stages of our life together.
I could tell them that health care reform is my fight because 60% of my friends (yes, I did the math...) have lost their jobs in the past 6 months and don't go to the doctor. Or that my godmother died of cancer with health insurance that wouldn't cover her treatment.
I could say that a young friend of mine is afraid to get a test that would tell whether or not he has a congenital heart disease because he is worried that he will forevermore have a pre-existing condition.
I could also tell you that in addition to being young, I'm a woman of color and that for my demographic in particular, health care is a life or death issue.
And all of those reasons would be true. But for my generation, health care reform is more than a personal story or experience: it is a moral and humanitarian mandate.
Surprisingly enough, the generation that many believe to be the most egotistical and narcissistic, is actually one of the few voices in the health care debate willing to talk about reform as a justice issue and one that impacts us all as Americans. It was our cry that a public option be an essential part of any plan not because we were unaware of political realities or because it was a catchy campaign buzzword, but because we refuse to leave anyone behind or compromise on progress.
We use general terms like affordability, access, and quality of care rather than haggle over the nuances of co-ops not because we're ignorant of the debate or haven't read the latest Ezra Klein post, but because we think it important that someone remind America of the principles on which reform must be based so that in the end, our values aren't lost in the sea of watered down and overly negotiated technicalities.
No one would ever assume that because the homeless aren't rallying and protesting in every congressional district that they don't care about affordable housing. Instead, we realize the challenges of building political power in a base that is historically difficult to organize. The same is true for young Americans, who make up 1/3 of the uninsured population. Our new methods of organizing are gaining momentum - we are now, politically coming of age, after an election that galvanized millions of voters new to the world of politics and learning to translate that energy and passion into post-election, issue-based, offline power. And that transition will take time.
But never let it be said that our generation "doesn't care." Millenials aren't classified as a unique demographic because of our age. While we happen to be young for the time being, our identity isn't based on trite youthful cliché's and coming of age milestones. It is based on a worldview shaped by war, Bush, and decades of selfish, elitist policy that has left us a nation of startling disparities and inequalities. This is the legacy that we were handed by our parents - and the health care debate is one of our first opportunities to turn that around. Health care reform isn't just my fight, it's our fight, and young people are on the front lines.
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