North Carolina Students Push Past Bad News For Good Policy Proposals

Nov 26, 2013Wilson Parker

Members of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network in North Carolina refuse to be discouraged by the state’s bad news, and propose policy changes that would make a difference for their state.

Members of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network in North Carolina refuse to be discouraged by the state’s bad news, and propose policy changes that would make a difference for their state.

North Carolina has been in the news quite a lot recently, and for almost uniformly bad reasons. North Carolinians have watched as their legislature passed one of the nation’s “most wide-ranging” voter ID laws, enacted the “harshest” cuts to unemployment insurance during the recession in the entire country, banned the use of modern science to project sea level rise,  attached a restrictive set of requirements on abortion providers to a motorcycle safety bill in order to ramrod it through, and made a host of other questionable decisions about our state and its future.

But I’m happy to say that students in North Carolina aren’t discouraged. I’ve watched my peers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) – from diverse perspectives – engage with the issues our state is facing. At the UNC chapter of Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network – and at our sister chapters across the state – we’re trying to do our part.  Last year, we published a journal focused on policy issues in North Carolina. The journal was a big success, covering a wide array of policy topics and getting more than 15,000 hits online.

We just finished our second volume and we hope it will be an even bigger success. Like our first edition, it contains a variety of forward-thinking ideas for our state and its future. Here are some quick takeaways:

North Carolina should expand access to Dual Enrollment

North Carolina currently offers high school students the option of taking courses at nearby community colleges and receiving credit towards both their high school diplomas and a college degree. These programs give North Carolinian students skills they can use in the workforce, additional preparation for their college educations, and – by reducing the number of semesters they need to receive a diploma – make it easier for students to complete their college educations. They are especially helpful to low-income students who seek to minimize the financial burden of education after high school.

In our journal, Kate Matthews argues persuasively that North Carolina should expand this program to enhance the effectiveness and equity of its high school programs. Furthermore, because these programs “utiliz[e] available resources rather than funding new initiatives,” expanding them is a highly cost-effective way for the state to improve education in North Carolina.

North Carolina shouldn’t give rapists parental rights

“In 31 states, including North Carolina, a rapist can assert the same custody and visitation rights that other biological parents enjoy.” This may be the journal’s most frightening sentence. But Molly Williams’s article does more than raise awareness about this serious problem: it also offers a solution. Williams suggests that North Carolina should adopt legislation modeled after bills in other states which give courts the option of terminating parental rights if a child was conceived as a result of incest or rape.

Wake County Schools should take a page out of Forsyth County’s book

North Carolina’s Wake County Schools – like its legislature – have been getting the state in the news for the wrong reasons. Many commentators, including Stephen Colbert, have criticized the school district for eliminating its diversity plan.

Students at the Wake Forest chapter of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network have a proposal that will help Wake County meet the needs of all its students. Forsyth County and Wake County have similar needs: both contain major North Carolina cities (Winston-Salem and Raleigh, respectively) and both serve diverse student populations. In order to provide its most ambitious students with a variety of curricular options, Forsyth County created a “Career Center” which offers a variety of Advanced Placement and technical courses. Students remain enrolled at their home high schools but travel to the Career Center for part of the day. Transportation is provided by the school district. Not only does the Career Center expand students’ curricular options; it makes those options available to all students in the district, no matter which high school they happen to attend. The Wake Forest chapter makes the case that Wake County should consider a similar program.

North Carolina should use a “foundation funding” approach rather than a “flat-grant” model to fund its schools

North Carolina’s current funding model for public schools pays for districts’ basic costs, but requires localities to pick up the rest of the bill and makes no allowance for economic differences between districts. Consequentially, Ioan Bolohan writes, “geographic socioeconomic differences lead to inequalities in the resources available to schools” which result in “inadequate funding and disparities in educational opportunities for students.”

Instead, Bolohan argues, North Carolina should adopt a foundation funding model that establishes a minimum tax rate across all school districts and provides state funding on an adjusted basis to make up for economic disparities. This approach, he writes, has improved outcomes and reduced inequality in states as diverse as Ohio, Massachusetts, and Texas. We can only hope North Carolina will be next.

Wilson Parker is a junior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, studying Economics and Philosophy. He is Co-President of the UNC Chapter of Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network and Editor-in-Chief of the North Carolina Undergraduate Journal of Public Affairs. 

Photo via Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network.

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Daily Digest - November 26: Rethinking Fairness And Pay It Forward College Plans

Nov 25, 2013Rachel Goldfarb

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The Trouble with Pay It Forward, Pay It Back (The GC Advocate)

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The Trouble with Pay It Forward, Pay It Back (The GC Advocate)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal argues against the pay it forward model of higher education funding that Oregon will soon attempt. He would greatly prefer using government to drive down the cost of tuition at public schools - and hopefully private institutions would follow.

Statistics: The Real Lost Generation (Truthdig)

Alexander Reed Kelly takes a look at the data in Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Jeff Madrick's recent column for Harper's Magazine on youth who are neither in school nor employed, or "opportunity youth." The numbers are scary, but government isn't taking any action.

  • Roosevelt Take: Read Jeff's column, "The Real Lost Generation," here.

H&M to Pay All Textile Workers Living Wage by 2018 (Epoch Times)

Catherine Yang reports on the clothing retailer's announcement, which they said will not impact prices. H&M's statement explicitly tied the size of the company to its responsibility to be a leader in pushing for living wages worldwide.

Bank Deal Ends Flawed Reviews of Foreclosures (NYT)

Jessica Silver-Greenberg reports on a settlement deal that is taking the place of real reviews of foreclosures. This solution is obviously faster and easier for the banks and the government, but it doesn't do much of anything for people who were harmed by the banks.

Aging Americans Have a New Companion: Higher Debt (Reuters)

Helaine Olen explains how social and economic changes have led to a major increase in the amount of debt held by Americans over 50. The trouble is, as Americans age, it's harder and harder to retain work to pay off that debt.

Here's Why Wall Street has a Hard Time Being Ethical (The Guardian)

In light of a new report which states that financial services professionals see ethical standards as an impediment to advancement in their workplaces, Chris Arnade explains how ethics and compliance standards were uphold during his Wall Street career.

New on Next New Deal

Abortion Restrictions Are Harming Women's Health and Human Rights in Texas

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Andrea Flynn looks at a new report from the Center for Reproductive Rights and the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, which shows just how badly new laws are harming the women of the Rio Grande Valley.

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Daily Digest - November 25: Incivility Isn't One Person's Fault

Nov 25, 2013Rachel Goldfarb

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Incivility in America - The Millennials: Restoring Civility (Hannity)

Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network's National Field Strategist, Joelle Gamble, and Senior Fellow for Economic Development, Azi Hussain, appeared on Fox News, where they drove Sean Hannity crazy by refusing to blame politically incivility on President Obama.

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Incivility in America - The Millennials: Restoring Civility (Hannity)

Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network's National Field Strategist, Joelle Gamble, and Senior Fellow for Economic Development, Azi Hussain, appeared on Fox News, where they drove Sean Hannity crazy by refusing to blame politically incivility on President Obama.

Bubble in the Making? How the Stock Market Might Not Reflect the Current Economy (PBS NewsHour)

Paul Solman speaks to Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal about the disconnect between the soaring stock exchange and the weaker economy, seen in today's still-high unemployment rate. He argues that stocks would be even higher if more people had jobs.

A Sustainable Economic Path (The Hill)

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Bo Cutter and Joe Kasputys present a proposal for a reasonable and balanced way to deal with the national debt without crippling the economy through sequestration cuts. Reducing debt can't come at the expense of everything else.

Yes, the Government Should Spend More Each Year (WaPo)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal argues that as the economy grows each year, government spending should grow with it. The country's needs don't shrink with greater wealth, so the GOP's call to "spend one dollar less" doesn't work.

Could Teller Organizing Help Halt Bank Abuses? (In These Times)

Sarah Jaffe reports on new workplace organizing attempts by bank tellers, who are protesting against outsourcing via video conferencing. Video tellers could save money for Bank of America, at the cost of local jobs at their branches.

JPMorgan Says It Broke No Law. So Why Pay The $13 Billion? (NPR)

Jim Zarroli explains how the bank can pay this fine to the Justice Department and still claim that it broke no laws. The public statement was so carefully worded that both sides can spin it into a victory, which means no clear explanation of wrongdoing.

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President Obama: Give Millennials a Seat at the Table on Climate Change

Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Energy and Environment Melia Ungson argues climate change solutions need to begin locally, and should start involving tomorrow's leaders right now.

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President Obama: Give Millennials a Seat at the Table on Climate Change

Nov 22, 2013Melia Ungson

Solutions to climate change begin at the community level, and tomorrow's leaders must be involved in the planning process today.

Solutions to climate change begin at the community level, and tomorrow's leaders must be involved in the planning process today.

Over the past several months, climate change has finally inched toward the spotlight. President Obama issued a Climate Action Plan in June, and a few months later he directed the EPA to enforce carbon emission limits for power plants. As a recent UN report further solidified that human activity is the cause of climate change, Obama has taken another step toward ensuring that the United States sticks to its international commitments and that the country is prepared to mitigate and adapt to changes at home. Shortly after the anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, on November 1, the President issued an executive order, “Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change.” This executive order paves the way for more prepared and resilient communities, but it is no substitute for young people, who will be the leaders of tomorrow, engaging in conversations to reenvision government’s role in addressing climate change.

In the executive order, Obama recognizes first the obligation to leave a healthy planet to future generations, and second that communities are already experiencing the effects of climate change. Added to the urgency is the fact that the communities most greatly impacted by climate change are often those that already contend with other problems, such as weak economies or regional health problems.

According to the White House, the executive order is meant to ensure that the federal government is equipped to effectively support “community-based preparedness and resilience efforts” through policies and investment priorities that advocate preparedness, protect infrastructure, support scientific research, and “protect and serve citizens in a changing climate.” More concretely, this means finding a way to modernize federal agencies and federal programs in order to encourage government at every level to consider climate risks and implement mitigation and adaptation strategies. 

To do this, the federal government is looking to the state and local levels. President Obama has created a task force made of governors, mayors, and tribal and local officials who have volunteered to participate. According to the White House, the task force will provide recommendations on how the federal government can remove “barriers to resilient investments, [modernize] Federal grant and loan programs to better support local efforts, and [develop] the information and tools they need to prepare.”

Far from a government takeover, the executive order calls for the federal government to look to state and local officials to gain insight on how to improve federal programs and better understand how communities can boost preparedness and innovation. Ultimately, the failure to prioritize climate change on the federal level is and will continue to be played out on a local level. This means that the local officials of tomorrow, who are the young people of today, will be forced to contend with changes in their communities and will be responsible for navigating the state and federal programs designed to provide support. Nancy Sutley, head of a White House environmental council, explained that communities are “on the front lines of dealing with the impacts of climate change.” That makes this bottom-up approach critical while the federal, state, and local levels of government incorporate climate change risks into project planning.

This order is an important step in ensuring that government at every level will be better equipped to plan for and address climate change in the future. It will spur greater innovation by encouraging officials in DC and around the country to think creatively by promoting data-sharing and collaboration for informed and coordinated efforts, and by opening a space, through the task force, for officials to come together and provide feedback.

Furthermore, this action is important in building a more vibrant economy and government in the long run. The federal government will continue to be called on to foot the bill for disaster relief after major storms or droughts, to compensate for the effects of ailing infrastructure, and to support communities that are struggling to adapt to climate change. Given this potential for real burdens on the government budget, we cannot wait to act if we want to protect both our communities and our economy. We need to create our own climate insurance of sorts. The steps we take now toward preparation and mitigation could be less costly overall than waiting until the urgency is greater and options more limited.

White House staff understand this need. John P. Holdren, the President’s science advisor, noted how the executive order emphasizes the need to make current investments “produce a much more resilient society.” This future-oriented thinking is essential if we want to effectively address climate change and if we want to fulfill the moral obligation to leave future generations with a healthy planet and resilient communities. More immediately, when Millennials are in positions of power, we know that climate change will be high on the agenda, and therefore understand that it is our generation that will reap the rewards or manage the clean-up of whatever actions we take or do not take in the coming months and years.

Our generation needs to go one step beyond this executive order. This call for a bottom-up approach, for crowdsourcing ideas, feedback, and innovation should extend to Millennials around the country as well. We know we have a huge stake in preparing our communities for the future, and we cannot sit back and wait for our turn to take the reins. A clear next step to the executive order would be to engage youth representatives, students, and young professionals in a task force that would emphasize a forward-thinking approach. To get there, Millennials can take an active role in learning from local officials grappling with climate change impacts as they arise, so that we are more knowledgeable and prepared when the problems are squarely in our hands. Millennials can also take an active role in proposing and testing solutions that will start building stronger communities today. We must take on the responsibility to engage with local officials, harness our creativity and skills, and stay dedicated to a long-term vision. 

Melia Ungson is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Energy and Environment.

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How Can We Help America's Opportunity Youth? Five Lessons Learned in New Orleans

Nov 20, 2013Nell Abernathy

Young people who aren't in school or working aren't beyond hope, but we need to invest more in the programs that will help them.

Young people who aren't in school or working aren't beyond hope, but we need to invest more in the programs that will help them.

The great recession has hit younger, less educated workers hardest, leaving 6.7 million young people between the ages of 16-24 out of work and out of school. These “Opportunity Youth” are more likely than their peers to experience unemployment, low wages, and poverty as adults, and more likely to end up incarcerated or in need of government assistance.

The Roosevelt Institute’s Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative went to the heart of the crisis, New Orleans, where 23 percent of young people between the ages of 18-24 are out of work and out of school, compared to a national average of 16 percent.

We asked expert academics and practitioners how we, as a country, can tackle this pressing challenge.

Here’s what we learned:

I. Opportunity Youth remain hopeful and we should too.

The vast majority of Opportunity Youth remain motivated and optimistic. One of our panelists, Amy Barad, Director Strategic Initiatives at the Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives, summed it up well: “What makes me hopeful is the kids themselves, they really want to get and education, get a job and contribute to society. Based on responses to a national survey, nearly three-quarters of Opportunity Youth are very confident or hopeful that they will be able to achieve their goals. Over three-quarters of respondents believe that getting a good education and job is their own responsibility and depends on their own effort.”

According to a survey conducted on behalf of Civic Enterprises and America’s Promise Alliance, 77 percent of those surveyed believe that getting a good education and a good job is their own responsibility and whether they succeed depends on their own effort, and 73 percent of Opportunity Youth are confident or hopeful in their ability to achieve their life goals. Here are those results in chart form:

II. However, the obstacles to reconnection are enormous and costs of disconnection are huge.

Disconnected Youth are more likely to grow up in poverty than their peers and were hit hardest by the recent recession. They are unlikely to have role models with degrees, the qualifications they need, transportation options for travelling to a job, or access to good jobs in their neighborhoods.

“The challenge is what urban planners call a wicked problem. The factors affecting disconnected youth are numerous, messy, and inter-related," Lauren Bierbaum, Executive Director of the Partnership for Youth Development, said. The obstacles to addressing disconnection are structural and rooted in communities.

For more, see the graphs below from Sarah Burd-Sharps and Kristen Lewis's report One in Seven: Ranking Youth Disconnection in the 25 Largest Metro Areas.

III. Some programs are successfully tackling these challenges, and the Opportunity Youth are eager to receive the help.

Two much-heralded programs designed to support these young people include Project U-Turn in Philadelphia, which recently won $499,000 in funding from the Aspen Institute as part of a plan to identify and replicate a national model, and YouthBuild, a nationwide Department of Labor program for high school dropouts.

Because the long-term societal costs of disconnected youth who don’t get help include lost taxes, more government transfers, higher prison budgets, and more, upfront investment in these programs is much cheaper than doing nothing.

And kids really want this help. “I’m excited to see the youth that are out there and that really want these programs,” Cherie LaCour-Duckworth, from the Urban League of Greater New Orleans, told us. “They are screaming for them. But funding has been cut drastically.”

Through Project U-Turn, the City of Philadelphia launched a collaborative effort to provide at-risk youth with needed services and raised the city’s high school graduation rates from 52 percent in 2005 to 64 percent in 2012. The following graph provided by Project U-Turn demonstrates the program's success so far:

According to a 2010 survey, 50 percent of YouthBuild participants received a high school degree or GED at the end of the program and 60 percent either went on to college or found full-time living wage jobs. Here is a chart illustrating the progam's impact:

Taxpayers are going to pay one way or another, either for fixing the problem upfront or for the costs of negligence later. The following charts from Civic Enterprises' reports on its National Roadmap for Opportunity Youth and The Economic Value of Opportunity Youth show this clearly:

According to the Civic Enterprises Survey, the kids are eager and ready for this help:

IV. But here is the rub: despite the long-term societal and fiscal benefits, we are under-investing in these intervention programs.

Most programs successfully serving disconnected youth are over-subscribed, and due to austerity measures, funding is further reduced. Youth opportunity grants authorized through the Workforce Investment Act reached 90,000 young people and reduced the overall number of out-of-work, out-of-school teens. But the program has not been funded since 2005, and sequestration has reduced overall workforce training funds by an additional $1.5 billion.

AmeriCorps-funded programs, which offer young people from diverse backgrounds the opportunity to serve in communities across the country, have been found to improve graduation and employment rates. The 2009 Serve America Act passed by Congress committed to increasing the number of AmeriCorps positions from 75,000 to 250,000 by 2017. The Act has not been implemented, however, and 85 percent of the more than 500,000 applicants were turned down in 2012. 

Here's a pair of charts highlighting this problem, from the National Skills Coalition and Service Nation

V. So what now?

“The only way we’re going to be able to have an impact is if government at all levels tackles these issues,” Jerome Jupiter, from the Youth Empowerment Project, told us in New Orleans, “This is no one person’s issue. We need all hands on deck – key stakeholders at the federal, state, and local levels, as well as institutions such as higher education all must work collaboratively to address youth unemployment.” 

Nell Abernathy is the Program Manager for the Roosevelt Institute's Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative.


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Daily Digest - November 20: Why Aren't We Working On Youth Unemployment?

Nov 20, 2013Rachel Goldfarb

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The Real Lost Generation (Harper's)

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The Real Lost Generation (Harper's)

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow and Director of the Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative Jeff Madrick considers the youth employment crisis. This problem has a ripple effect on the whole economy, but Washington isn't talking about it at all.

Rep. Sandy Levin on Why Congress Should Talk to More Unemployed Workers (WaPo)

Brad Plumer speaks to the Representative about the looming deadline to continue funding for extended unemployment benefits. The benefits wouldn't be phased out this time - it would be an immediate cut off at the end of the year.

San Francisco Workers Can Now Request Flexible Work Schedules—But Not Predictable Ones (RH Reality Check)

Sheila Bapat says that while San Francisco is still ahead of the curve on progressive work policy, it missed something important in a recent new ordinance. Guaranteeing flexible schedules is great, but many workers really need predictable schedules week-to-week.

Poor, with Savings (TAP)

Monica Potts writes about an innovative program in New York City that is helping the poor to save money. Most tax incentives for saving target middle- and upper-income families, but tax deferrals on 401(k)s don't do much for families struggling to get by.

Micro-Apartments: More Trouble Than They’re Worth? (Remapping Debate)

David Noriega considers how micro-apartments being built in New York City fit into housing policy as a whole. He suggests that these tiny studios are unlikely to serve as a real solution to the lack of affordable housing.

JP Morgan's $13bn Settlement – the Record-Setting Penalty Explained (The Guardian)

Heidi Moore explains the details of the JPMorgan Chase settlement with the Justice Department for its part in the mortgage crisis. About $4 billion of that settlement is going to help homeowners - but it will be hard to measure the impact of that money.

New on Next New Deal

Do Negative Rates Call For a Permanent Expansion of the Government?

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal writes about an exchange between Ben Bernanke and Larry Summers at an International Monetary Fund event last week. Summers admitted that there may be a need for more permanent government stimulus.

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Daily Digest - November 14: Millennial Success Beyond Big Cities

Nov 14, 2013Rachel Goldfarb

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Jersey City: Cheaper, Yes, But Also a Real Sense of Community (The Atlantic Cities)

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Jersey City: Cheaper, Yes, But Also a Real Sense of Community (The Atlantic Cities)

Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline Fellow Nona Willis Aronowitz continues her two week series on cities where Millennials can afford to succeed. She emphasizes that Jersey City, NJ isn't just a suburb anymore, with more people centering their work there too.

Elizabeth Warren to Regulators, Congress: End ‘Too Big to Fail’ (The Nation)

Zoë Carpenter discusses Senator Warren's keynote at a Roosevelt Institute and Americans for Financial Reform event this week. She focuses on how the Senator's speech fits into the larger picture of Congressional action on financial reform.

  • Roosevelt Take: Watch Senator Warren's speech, which aired live on C-SPAN 2, here.

How McDonald's and Wal-Mart Became Welfare Queens (Bloomberg View)

Barry Ritholtz takes a strong stance against the major corporations which work on a model of unsustainable wages for workers, who then need public assistance. Raising the minimum wage is a likely solution, but he also suggests penalties for companies whose workers can't get by.

Scalia’s Chance to Smash Unions: The Huge Under-the-Radar Case (Salon)

Josh Eidelson explains why Unite Here Local 355 v. Mulhall could make forming a union even more difficult. Most union organizing today is done under "card check neutrality agreements" between unions and companies, but those agreements could be ruled unconstitutional.

Detroit's Decision to Fend Off Bankruptcy: Pay Pensions or Banks? (The Guardian)

Dominic Rushe speaks to Detroit pension recipients about what bankruptcy would mean for their lives. They place the destruction of pensions squarely within the destruction of middle-class opportunity in the United States.

Everyone's Talking About This Simple Solution To Ending Poverty By Just Giving People Free Money (Business Insider)

Danny Vinik lays out a simple explanation of universal basic income. Importantly, he explains how the U.S. could fund a basic income up to the poverty line, even though it would never pass the current Congress.

How To Save Entitlements Without Really Trying (Blog of the Century)

Zachary Bernstein explains a potential change to Federal Insurance Contributions Act, which creates the taxes that fund Social Security and Medicare, that even the GOP could appreciate. We could save the long-term future of these programs and lower taxes for most Americans.

New on Next New Deal

The Real Movers and Shakers

Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Equal Justice Erik Lampmann would be happier if elections and one-off protests got far less media attention. Instead, he suggests examples of community organizing successes that really deserve our applause.

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The Real Movers and Shakers

Nov 13, 2013Erik Lampmann

Instead of electoral politics, we should be paying more attention to the community-based movement building happening around the country.

There are actions, policies, battles ... and then there are movements.

Over the past few weeks I’ve grown increasingly concerned that episodic protests, press releases, and elections receive the lion’s share of our concern, while strategic movements to build strong, resilient communities are left by the wayside.

Instead of electoral politics, we should be paying more attention to the community-based movement building happening around the country.

There are actions, policies, battles ... and then there are movements.

Over the past few weeks I’ve grown increasingly concerned that episodic protests, press releases, and elections receive the lion’s share of our concern, while strategic movements to build strong, resilient communities are left by the wayside.

Take, for instance, the media’s flirtation with Russell Brand’s ‘revolutionary politics.’ It seemed as though pundits were bending over backwards to support Brand’s calls for the fair distribution of wealth in the UK, heralding him a radical leftist. This isn’t the space to examine the authenticity of Brand’s claims to radical progressive politics. It is worth noting, however, the power asymmetries of a media landscape that affords Brand unheard of attention for his politics while failing to ever address the work of undocumented, queer, youth, and student activists (sometimes together) across the country.

Similarly, I’ve seen reductive partisan politics engrain themselves in my state, Virginia, through this most recent gubernatorial campaign, pitting a particularly bigoted conservative Attorney General against a Democrat with no previous experience as an elected official and an endless rolodex of IOUs to call in. I’m sad that my choice as a queer person boiled down to whether to vote for a candidate that would rather overturn Lawrence v. Texas or an eventually-successful corporate Democrat with no grounding in public service. With such distinct lack of vision to choose from, it almost seems as though one should have ironically followed Brand’s advice and not vote.

This is not to undervalue the importance of electoral politics. Without federal legislation, programs as essential to the American social safety net as Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, and SNAP would be impossible. However, focusing on electoral targets is a narrow lens through which to treat issues like community revitalization, green jobs campaigns, and food security. These issues are complex; they are, by their nature, multidimensional questions that require coalition-based solutions with stakeholders from advocacy groups, direct service organizations, and elected officials to make meaningful progress.

The conversation should therefore shift to an analysis of whom we are leaving out of the discussion on movement-building. Let’s examine several community organizing wins from these past few weeks that weren’t covered in the mainstream media, amplified by elected officials or catalyzed by major national non-profits.

  1. Undocumented youth in California successfully pressured former Secretary of Homeland Security and current University of California President Janet Napolitano to invest $5 million in financial assistance for undocumented students.  Not only did these student activists succeed in securing much-needed financial support for their communities, they also compelled Napolitano to reverse her own immigration politics. The collective voice of these young people held an official from the administration with the highest number of deportations accountable to the needs of the communities she had previously helped marginalize.
  2. Youth in the Chicago Student Union launched a creative and strategic protest  during Halloween, dressing as zombies suffering the ‘death of public education.’ This youth-led action came after months of mobilizations of teachers, staff, students, and community members around Mayor Emmanuel’s attacks on the Chicago Teachers Union.
  3. Students at George Washington University – including members of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network chapter at that school – are mobilizing around revelations that their admissions department had been secretly screening students based on their ability to pay. Despite marketing itself as a ‘need-blind’ institution, apparently GWU has used family wealth as a deciding factor in undergraduate admissions.

These struggles are not isolated, disconnected media headlines. Far from it. Instead, they represent the power of collective voices rising up to make demands on an establishment that has either attempted to quell their momentum, disenfranchise them, or otherwise push them to the margins of public discourse. They represent the power of community organizing to better our communities and create meaningful change at the grassroots level.

We speak often of the democratic experiment of the United States – of the on-going process of ‘making’ a nation. Yet our attention span for truly transformational struggles is so often limited to flashpoints in undoubtedly richer, more nuanced movement histories. As I embark on a capstone project within the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network to investigate best practices among fellow youth organizers, I’m taken by the importance of narratives that speak to the experience of those who devote their lives to movement work.

This week is already devolving into an endless series of gubernatorial recaps without much substantive analysis of grassroots organizing or movements that influenced the electoral landscape. It’s important that we reject pundits’ reductive understanding of social change as electoral change and affirm a more grounded understanding of the ‘real movers and shakers’ of our political landscape. They aren’t the Terry McAuliffes of the world who come to govern through a litany of party fundraising jobs, favors, and corporate savoir faire; they are the disadvantaged communities forging a better tomorrow through many small wins, and occasional big wins, and united under the banner of one movement towards justice for all people. These movements toward change are much more deserving of our concern, respect, and honor.

Erik Lampmann is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Equal Justice. He studies political theory and French at the University of Richmond. 


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What Do the Millennials Want From the Affordable Care Act?

Nov 12, 2013Anisha Hegde

Millennials are more interested in learning about how the Affordable Care Act works and obtaining health insurance than hyper-partisan rhetoric.

Millennials are more interested in learning about how the Affordable Care Act works and obtaining health insurance than hyper-partisan rhetoric.

In addition to serving as Senior Fellow for Health Care for the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network, I am the Executive Director for my campus’ Roosevelt chapter. A few weeks ago at our general body meeting, I asked the crowd whether they had been talking with their friends about the Affordable Care Act, and what these conversations sounded like. Did they know the basics: that in January, most Americans will be expected to either carry at least minimal insurance or pay an opt-out penalty? Do they know that they will be able to stay on their parents’ insurance until they are 26, if they so choose? Have they compared the prices of different options available for young adults versus the penalty?

The question meant to take up the first ten minutes of our meeting turned into a full forty-minute discussion. As we scarfed down our pizza in true hungry college-student fashion, students shared their puzzlement about pro-ACA campaigns that encouraged individuals to just log on to (you know, the website now infamous for its still-lingering usage problems) without further explanation as well as Generation Opportunity’s “don’t let government play doctor” campaign. In order to move the meeting along, we prematurely wrapped up the discussion, deciding that given the complexity of the ACA, Millennials want easy access to resources that educate us rather than simply feeding us instructions.

The kinds of resources we want are out there, but it seems their utility is suffocated by the louder (i.e. more well-funded) campaigns still focused on the politicization of health care reform. The campaigns focus on erroneous value-laden statements and criticism of public officials like Barack Obama and Kathleen Sebelius—ultimately leaving people aware of the latest stinging headlines but completely unaware that marketplaces opened October 1, or of the impact the marketplaces could have on them.

During our meeting, several students admitted that by getting sucked into media politicization of the ACA and calling into question the character of anyone who opposes it, they had lost sight of why we were retooling our health care system in the first place, and racing to fix the problems that came along with that process. The solid ten minutes of conversation that followed consisted of the health care wonks in the room answering the basic question of ‘why.’ Because we currently pay more for our health care than most other developed countries. Because our emergency rooms, required to treat all patients regardless of their insurance or ability to pay, drive up costs for the system as a whole. Because, in fixing these skyrocketing prices, we still believe that socioeconomic status should not determine an individual’s access to services essential for his or her life.

Even with the ‘why’ of health care reform answered, it is valid to make sure that the cure is not harder to stomach than the disease itself. For Millennials, one of the biggest pros of the Affordable Care Act is that individuals with lower salaries will be able to afford insurance and obtain health services thanks to government subsidies. This is critical, given that Millennials have the highest uninsured rates and that the Millennials with the highest uninsured rates are in the lowest income bracket. Possible cons must also be addressed, including the fact that Millennials who have a higher income might end up paying higher premiums for insurance purchased on the exchanges than they have paid on the individual market in the past. 

So, Millennials have choices to make, choices that were the cornerstone of the Supreme Court’s ruling to uphold the ACA. These choices will be colored by individual comparisons of marketplace premiums versus out-of-pocket costs, the future outlook and trajectory of these premiums, and which doctors and services would fall into certain networks, among other questions. Given that 53 percent of Millennials say they do not have a trusted source for information about the ACA, gauging an answer to these questions becomes a difficult, time-consuming task.

These sources need to be readily available and widely publicized soon, as the ACA relies on the comparatively healthier Millennials to keep premiums down for the rest of the population. Assuming discussion sparked in our Roosevelt chapter is a rough indication of Millennial sentiments as a whole, we are ready for the media to shift its focus from the embittered political debate to see that presenting one hyper-partisan side of the ACA leaves Millennials suspicious, unwilling to act either to keep premiums reasonable or to contribute to the defunding of the ACA. We do not want orders barked at us or abstractions and hyperboles hurled at us. Instead, we want the facts to empower us – to guide us in translating ACA jargon of marketplaces and mandates into the value of health care as a fundamental human right.

Anisha Hegde is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Health Care.

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How Did the Great Recession Affect Millennial Views on Love?

Nov 8, 2013

As part of the Roosevelt Institute's "What's the Deal?" series, Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline Fellow Nona Willis Aronowitz explains how Millennials' view love and relationships after the Great Recession.

As part of the Roosevelt Institute's "What's the Deal?" series, Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline Fellow Nona Willis Aronowitz explains how Millennials' view love and relationships after the Great Recession.

For more on Nona's work, visit:

To visit the Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline and learn about their network:

Have an idea or topic suggestion for our "What's the Deal" series? Let us know by tweeting at #RIExplains and @RooseveltInst.

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