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Young voters urge Congress to protect students, public education and middle class

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by Brian Washington

After helping President Barack Obama win the key battleground states of Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, the so-called “youth vote” — which includes recent high school graduates, college students, and anyone between the ages of 18 and 29 — is riding a wave of momentum that is reaching the halls of Congress, where its power and influence is being put to the test in the “fiscal cliff” debate.

“If we go over the fiscal cliff, it’s going to end up affecting us more than anyone else,” said David Tjaden, a 25-year-old University of Iowa graduate who holds a Master’s Degree in Social Studies education and wants to be a teacher. “Medicaid and Medicare might not be big, sexy topics to young people, but we are going to be the ones that lose out if these programs are not available to those of us who may need them in the future.”

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Tjaden chairs the NEA Student Program, which has about 60,000 future educators from more than 1,100 colleges and universities nationwide. He’s teamed up with 60 youth leaders from 13 national groups — including Campus Progress, United States Student Coalition, and Vote Mob — to lobby members of Congress yesterday and today to prevent steep, across-the-board cuts from automatically kicking in next year to programs students, the elderly, and middle class families depend on — such as public education, Medicaid and Medicare.

Tjaden (left) and other youth activists on Capitol Hill.

For Tjaden, the message for lawmakers from the Youth Advocacy Campaign is simple: “Work with the White House to create a solution that protects public education.” If not, public school programs serving millions of students with disabilities and low-income and middle-income students will be gutted, class sizes will increase, and 78,000 educators will be put out of work.

“The last thing that we should be doing is cutting teachers. Any deal that we have should not include cuts to jobs, to education, to infrastructure needs, or the middle class,” said Tjaden, who believes we also need new revenues and the elimination of the Bush tax cuts for the richest 2 percent so everyone pays their fair share.

In addition to lobbying lawmakers on the Hill, Tjaden and the other youth leaders are encouraging their peers to take part in a national call-in day on Wednesday (1.866.293.7278) to urge Congress to protect public education, Medicaid and Medicare.

This year’s presidential election, which saw the youth vote increase to about 19 percent of the electorate, is creating an appetite for political activism within a segment of society many had previously thought didn’t care about politics.

“We’ve really seen an increase in political activism,” said Tjaden. “This generation is ready to uphold this country’s values and morals and ensure that we move this nation in the right direction.”

If you want to learn more about how going over the fiscal cliff will harm students and public schools and how you can take action, click here.

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