“No one should die because they cannot afford health care, and no one should go broke because they get sick. If you agree, join us in posting this as your status for the rest of the day.”
So went the status updates of Facebook users a couple of weeks back. It’s unclear which individual or organization started this effort, or how many people it has reached. But this hardly matters because with a few a clicks a new chapter in America’s battle over health care was being written online. Numerous online publications and blogs were documenting what had just happened and adding to the hype.
Facebook is only one of the social media platforms health-care-reform advocates are using to build a grassroots movement around their cause. And it is only one example of how, contrary to common belief, young people do in fact care about the future of their country. Activist organizations such as MoveOn.org, Young Invincibles and the 80 Million Strong coalition (to which HeadCount belongs) have turned to Web 2.0 platforms in hopes of building a true grassroots movement.
Young Invincibles, which launched its campaign a few months ago, invites people to submit videos of their personal health-care stories. With more than 400 submissions received in just a few weeks, supporters can upload their videos via a YouTube channel. Could interaction among supporters be any easier?
Video is immediate, direct, authentic, and uncensored. Yes, it may take more work than, say, writing a letter to congress. But it’s an fresh and exciting way for the millennial generation in particular to make its mark on history.
And they’ve only just begun.
“We are very interested in thinking about ways to work with Facebook and other social media applications to create ways in which people can express and have that spontaneous expression of support or desire for change, but also to become part of a community that allows us to continue to talk to them and engage them in what is going to be a longer-term drive toward reform,” said Ari Matusiak, a founder of Young Invincibles.
80 Million Strong has taken similar measures. Last week they collected dozens of stories told through video, photographs and written works, which they will present to elected officials.
MoveOn.org, teamed up with the band R.E.M to make the “We Can’t Afford to Wait" music video. It features photographs of organization members across the country sharing their struggles with the current health-care system.
This medium is undeniably remarkable in what it can achieve. But it's no substitute for outreach outside the web warns Maya Enista, CEO of the 80 Million Strong Coalition. “While social media definitely have elevated the level of discussion and made it more accessible to more people, it’s not enough to win a campaign,” she said. “I think they're one of the most important avenues of communication for our generation. It’s just another tool in the box we activists use.”
Critics of reform are also in on this spreading trend. Conservatives for Patients’ Rights, known for its “No Guarantee” ad, uses its video page and blog to criticize reform. And although pro-reform Facebook groups seem to outweigh the naysayers, People against Nationalized Health Care has managed to attract more than 2,350 friends.