Talk To Us: Democrats, Policy, and Young Voters

Cross posted at Future Majority

In 2004, John Kerry made a huge mistake.  While touring colleges and universities,he delivered long-winded speeches about medicare and social security to audiences of teens and twenty-somethings whose main concerns were rising student debt, shrinking employment opportunities, and their friends, busy fighting an ill-conceived land war in Asia.  As a result, one of the more popular sites during the '04 election was called John Kerry is a douchebag but I'm voting for him anyway.  

And we did vote for him.  We didn't sit it out, we weren't apathetic. Young people gave John Kerry a 10 point margin over Bush - the only age demographic to choose Kerry.  But we weren't happy about it.  He was still a douchebag, and nothing showed that more than his indifference to the issues that we cared about so deeply.  

What I want to know is this - are the Democratic candidates going to repeat that mistake in 2007 and 2008?  Will they take our votes for granted, or will they respect us enough to address our issues and engage our generation in a substantive conversation?  What will they say this time when they hold their "college tours?" What will they say when they meet young voters who are working their first jobs, or starting families, and struggling with a mountain of debt?  Or to those who are priced out of college?  What will they say to those of our generation who continue to fight and die in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Right now we have a chance to find out.  

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Maine Jobs Through Education Initiative

I want to tell everyone about a ballot initiative campaign that is launching in Maine today.  A new organization called Opportunity Maine (www.opportunitymaine.org) is going to put an initiative on the 2007 ballot to make higher education more affordable for everyone, and to keep degree earners in the State after they graduate.  Under the legislation, Maine residents who earn associate's or bachelor's degrees in Maine could claim a state income tax credit large enough to cover their loan payments, each year they live and work in Maine.  An employer could also make payments on an employee's behalf and claim the credit (many individuals don't earn enough to take full advantage of a tax credit that large).  The credit is capped based on in-state tuition and fees at the Maine Community College System and the University of Maine system, respectively.  Passage of the initiative would make Maine a leader in this field, and hopefully we would serve as a model for other States.

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Preserving white privilege in education

As a white male, I'm the beneficiary of advantages that my peers - different only in race and gender - simply aren't afforded. I'm paid more than women doing the same job. I'm treated better than minorities in the same situations. There's simply no arguing otherwise.

Minorities and women, conversely, face an uphill battle in our society and have struggled for equality since America's inception. More often than not, both groups are treated as second-class citizens. Historically, however, the right has turned these groups' fight for a level playing field into a woe-is-us conceit designed to preserve white male hegemony and further relegate everyone else to an historical afterthought.

So when I read that colleges and universities, in response to court decisions and pressure from conservatives, are allowing white students to compete for scholarships and other programs previously earmarked for minorities and women, I wasn't surprised. Because if there's anything the right stands for, it's taking away opportunities from those unlike themselves.

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