Young People Take the Economy Into Their Own Hands
Politicians love to talk about young people. Debt is hoisted "on the backs of Americans of the next generation," warns Michele Bachmann. We must free ourselves so that "our children" are "free to pursue their dreams" says Tim Pawlenty. Let's "win the future," says President Obama, for "our kids."
But where are the frontlines of that future, the young Americans, who are getting battered and burdened by America's current economic woes? What are they doing? Shopping for sweet shwag and listening to 90s hip hop?
Yes. And it's all part of their grand plan.
Buy Young is a new initiative from the non-profit Our Time, which works to defend the interests of young Americans. The group has attacked pollsters for only calling landlines (and therefore neglecting young people, who long ago ditched landlines for cell phones) and launched a recent campaign to get congress to cancel their vacation. But the goal of Buy Young is even more ambitious: to translate the massive consumer power of young people into political strength.
Buy Young is an ecommerce site, featuring only companies run by young people and offering up to 60% in discounts to their young peers. Its the brainchild of two college buddies, Matthew Segal and Jarette Moreno, who launched the campaign to much fanfare at a D.C. conference last month, which brought 160 entrepreneurs under-35 to the White House, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Capitol, along with big names like Ed Rensi, the former CEO of McDonalds, and Senators John McCain and Chuck Schumer.
Buy Young is "a targeted consumer movement," Segal announced, to support companies and small businesses founded by young Americans. Sick of being talked about but never listened to, the Buy Young team wanted to prove that young people "can take ownership and solve these problems ourselves," and to remind U.S. lawmakers that teens and 20-somethings "are major contributors to the economic recovery in this country."
Roughly one in five people between the ages of 16 and 24 are unemployed. Young people today have been called "boomerang" kids, bouncing from college to our parent's basements, or the "lost generation" -- disaffected and self-absorbed. Segal and Moreno are looking to rebrand their cohort and tap all the potential that adults so enjoy telling young people they're squandering.
"By virtue of our age we have all these shared interests," Segal told AOL Jobs. "A unified employment interest, personal debt -- all that fine print that even Ph.Ds can't understand -- and the structural deficit in this country, which we're paying the bills for."
Young people are also overwhelmingly united, Segal claims, in their concern for environmental issues and same-sex marriage. "Even young conservatives now are bucking their party on that one," he said.
Buy Young wants this generation to put their money where there ideals are. Too often, Segal said, young people inadvertently support businesses that hurt their interests. Financial services corporations, banks, telecommunications companies, "literally all of them are exploiting young people and their lack of consumer education," he said.
Segal and Moreno hope to provide that education, and connect young consumers with young and socially responsible entrepreneurs. "But we're being pragmatic," Segal said. "Self-interest comes first, and collective interest comes second."
So a daily deals website seemed like the perfect entry point. Lure the youth in with a discount on a psychedelic safari throw pillow, and then hopefully they'll stay for the cause.
The Buy Young team doesn't just want to inspire thoughtful consumerism, but thoughtful production too. The entrepreneurs currently participating in Buy Young aren't just "the Mark Zuckerberg tech genius type," Segal is proud to say. A lot of the businesses are old fashioned brick and mortar stores.
Back to the Roots, founded by two friends their senior year, make grow-at-home mushroom kits out of recycled coffee grounds. Bullets2Bandages sells bullet pendants and donates some of the proceeds to wounded veterans and their families. Erik Spalding and Cole Evans founded the company after losing friends in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"Not only am I going to save money," Segal hopes people will think. "But I'm actually supporting somebody like myself who is challenging old business models."
To help spread the good word, Segal and Moreno enlisted the help of Max Lanman, a recent college graduate and young entrepreneur himself, who presides over his own production outfit, Lanman Media.
They told him the idea, handed him two grand, and asked him to do something awesome. Lanman took the opportunity to fulfill his "lifelong dream of being a 90s rap all-star," and produced a three minute video that covers all of Buy Young's major talking points through the mouths of three human-sized bills, inspired by Tupac, Snoop Dog, and DMX, respectively, and all voiced by Lanman himself.
Lanman wanted to evoke the great hip hop videos of the 1990s, throwing in references to Ice Cube and standard tropes like wit, aggression, and strippers. His target demographic, after all, grew up in the 90s, and he thought the nostalgia factor could up the video's viral potential. It seems to be working; over the weekend the video was featured on the front page of Will Ferrell and Adam Mckay's comedy website Funny Or Die.
The video may rhyme rizzle, shizzle and governmizzle sizzle, but it also makes some serious points.
"What you're doing when you makin' your little payment, / You see, you're inadvertently makin' a real statement," Lanman spits out. "It's ironic that we get no respect from authority, / Cuz when you think about consumers, we make up the majority."
He ends with with a call to action: "'Cause this is our time, and you should Buy Young. You should Buy Young."
"It's essentially a quirky marketing idea," said Segal. "Every company wants us to buy their products, to get hooked at an early age."
And Buy Young is no exception. While fighting "the Man" has traditionally meant escaping the capitalist system, Segal and Moreno are urging young people to consume. It may be more practical and less idealistic than youth movements of the past. But that means it just might work.
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Claire Gordon has contributed to Slate's DoubleX, the Huffington Post, and the book Prisons: Current Controversies. While an undergraduate at Yale University and a research fellow at Yale graduate school, she spoke on panels at Yale and Cornell, and reported from Cairo, Tokyo, and Berlin.
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