They would like to be taken seriously
If there is one issue with Millennials, it’s certainly not that they’re being ignored. So do the youth of America truly need a dedicated lobbying group to further their interests in Congress? One 27-year-old thinks so. NYC-based, Chicago-born Ben Brown, an energy consultant by day, launched the Association of Young Americans (AYA for short) at the end of March in an effort to create what he hopes will be the AARP for Millennials. Their slogan: “Everyone else has lobbyists. Now you do too.”
Brown says they’ve managed to enlist a couple hundred members so far, all of whom have paid the $20 yearly rate (at $16, AARP is a slightly better deal). The perks of joining this high-minded, politically earnest new group include $75 off delivery mattresses from Doze and 15% off everything at Zest Tea; the website notes Brown is developing relationships in all the most important facets of Millennial life: clothes, food, travel, streaming services. Right now Brown is steering the ship, but he plans to hire people with lobbying know-how to start going after Congress following the November presidential election. First issue on the docket? Student loan debt, of course.
“I think the number one issue that we talk about is student debt and the cost of higher education,” says Brown. It’s certainly a pressing Millennial issue, going by the demographics of those who’ve voted for Bernie Sanders (free college tuition is one of his campaign cornerstones). Similar to some criticism of Sanders, Brown has very broad topics in mind without any clear policy goals yet: criminal justice, climate change, and campaign finance reform are all things AYA might focus on, depending on polls that new members fill out.
In the spirit of inclusion, AYA is interested in investing in broad education and engagement for young people (eventually it will represent Generation Z, after the Millennials cycle into the abyss of middle age). “We're developing programs and tools that educate our members, whether it be on policy issues or navigating the financial system and understanding retirement plans,” he says. “We're actually working on a tool...that allows users to message their congressional representatives.”
It might seem strange that someone with no political experience would create a lobbying group, but Brown notes it’s a $3 billion industry that leaves out young people; he’s simply filling a gap. And considering how much hyper-scrutiny older folks put on Millennial trends, preferences, spending habits, etc., it’s not far-fetched to think AYA will get noticed. “There are 80 million people in the age range between 18 and 35. Ultimately, there needs to be millions if not tens of millions of members,” Brown says. “That's beyond one year, of course, but that's really where I see it going. I really see it becoming the AARP for young Americans.”
To fight on behalf of what would be AYA’s flagship issue, student loan debt, the group would be taking on the education industry; according to The Wall Street Journal, “public universities, private colleges, vocational schools and other higher education institutions employed more than 1,000 lobbyists” in 2014, spending a whopping $73 million. That’s a lot of $20 memberships. (It should be noted that the very powerful AARP, with its 37.8 million members, has made it absolutely verboten to discuss Medicare cuts.)
It would be easy to satirize a lobbying group for Millennials, but Brown’s goals are not frivolous. His group could potentially engage large numbers of young people, if they start to see real benefits in their everyday lives (beyond mattresses on the cheap). Hopefully Millennials won’t be ready for AARP by the time that happens.