This piece by Joy Lawson, Director of YP4, was originally published in the Huffington Post.
Despite attempts to label millennials as unengaged and apathetic, there’s no denying the younger generation’s vote means a lot in elections. A-list celebrities like Lena Dunham and Lil Jon are the new faces of the Get Out the Vote movement, and reports from 2012 reveal the youth vote was decisive in President Obama’s victory.
So it’s no surprise that the Koch Brothers, notoriously right-wing billionaires, are using their fortunes to promote radical, conservative priorities to millennials through their organization, Generation Opportunity.
However, reading through American Bridge’s report about the group, it’s clear that they’ll face an uphill battle. That’s not just because young people tend to disagree with the priorities the Koch Brothers are putting forth, but especially because young people are actually working against the very issues that GenOpp stands for.
Generation Opportunity opposes government subsidized student loans, federal aid to colleges, lowering loan rates – basically, any realistic measure that could make a college education more accessible to millions of students. With 71% of students graduating from college with debt and low-income students bearing the greatest brunt of tuition increases, making college more – not less – affordable is critical in order for students of all backgrounds to attend college. That’s a big reason why every day, I work with students through People For the American Way Foundation’s Young People For (YP4) program that are fighting directly against Koch priorities that seek to restrict college access.
Look no further than Torii Uyehora, a student at Southern Oregon University and YP4 fellow. As a college student she knows the struggles of student loans, and she recently organized 75 students to attend a rally to support public funding of higher education. Taynara Costa-Maura, a YP4 Fellow from Santa Monica, CA is encouraging her friends and fellow students to engage in the progressive movement through advocating for college affordability measures, like Prop 30, which prevented massive tuition increases and saved her community college – and many other community colleges across the state – from having to make big cuts to classes offered.
Torii and Taynar are just two of the thousands of students across the country pushing for affordable higher education. It’s comical to imagine a headline of “Students Lobby for Higher Debt” or “Rally at University Calls for Raising Student Loan Rates.” But that’s what the Kochs support. Students agree with – and fight hard – for progressive measures so that more students can access higher education. Unless they’re able to deceive millennials about their real motives, I’m not sure the Kochs will get anywhere trying to change that.
It’s not just college affordability. While Generation Opportunity speaks out against net neutrality, 77% of 18-29 year olds believe in the principles of net neutrality. And student activists are engaging their fellow students to discuss how critical net neutrality is.
Another YP4 Fellow, Areeba Kamal at Mount Holyoke College, has written pieces for outlets including USA Today about why net neutrality is so essential. She detailed the efforts of young people on this issue: “Students and young adults have organized teach-ins in public locations, where they explain the issue and reiterate their support for net neutrality to the general public.”
The fact is, millennials increasingly align themselves with progressive priorities, spanning from gay marriage to immigration. As Chris Cillizza wrote in the Washington Post last year, “More important — and ultimately more impactful, politically speaking — is how millennials feel about issues in the national conversation. Time and again, they come down on the more liberal side of those arguments.”
Generation Opportunity can give out all the beer koozies and pizza they want (yes, they tried that to stop young people from signing up for health care…), but millennials won’t be fooled by the shiny packaging–their peers are already fighting against the failed right-wing policies that the Kochs promote.