By Phoebe Roe
It has been nearly five years since Matthew Segal 08 and Jarrett Moreno 08 graduated from Kenyon. In that time, they have conquered Capitol Hill and founded OurTime.org. Last Thursday, Jan. 31, they returned to tell their tale in an event put on by Student Lectureships.
Presenting in the Gund Gallerys Community Foundation Theater, Segal and Moreno spoke of their experience advocating youth rights and butting heads with Washington pundits in the process.
Many of the public policy decisions that are happening before our very eyes are extracting opportunity from us, Segal said. And so, I wanted to take tonight to recognize not only the critical role we have but what organizations such as OurTime and others in D.C. can do to help in restoring our opportunity as we age.
The duos journey began on Election Day in 2004. Segal was volunteering at the polls in Gambier and saw firsthand as his friends, Moreno included, waited in lines for up to 12 hours just to cast a ballot.
I was bringing down pizza and umbrellas and water bottles and cards and cigarettes and just about everything you can imagine to keep people in line to vote, said Segal.
Eventually Moreno did get to vote, but not until 4:00 a.m. By that time, cable networks had called the election.
Segal upped his political involvement his junior year, founding the Student Association for Voter Empowerment (SAVE). SAVE strove to break down political barriers for students by making voting simpler and more accessible. The organization saw great success and quickly expanded to about 40 college campuses and 15 states nationwide. Segal ran SAVE from Kenyon during his junior and senior years, commuting regularly to Washington D.C. to fight for student rights.
The problem of SAVE, or the limit of it, was that it only focused on elections, Segal said. With the goal of getting youth involved in politics year-round, Segal founded a job organization he would call 80 Million Strong, a coalition of around 25 nonprofits in Washington that worked together to create new jobs for the younger generation.
While Segal was working with political giants, Moreno was pursuing a different path.
I always loved politics but I went and worked in finance for a year, and a few months [as] a financial consultant after I graduated which was not a good fit for me, which I realized quickly, Moreno said. It was just after Moreno had left this job that Segal called and proposed starting OurTime. Segal knew his idea was risky.
You probably thought I was a little crazy, he said, turning to his friend. But Moreno shook his head: This was something that was exciting and bold and ambitious and that I thought we could achieve.
Since launching OurTime, Moreno and Segal have appeared on MSNBC and CBS, met with White House officials, organized gatherings and registered voters. All told their website has attracted one million followers.
OurTime, which Moreno jokingly calls the American Association for Retired Persons for Young People, has not only become a huge success but has made a marked difference in making a generation care and politicians pay attention.
I think you need a sense of motivation, if not a sense of being wronged, in order to create something that is so focused and so energized around one particular mission, which is granting more power and enfranchisement through our organization, Segal said.
The men have a solution for everything from college prices to job opportunities. Colleges, they said, should keep their prices in check and worry less about their rankings and more about their teaching. Students, in turn, should accept that they will have to re-train for jobs after college and should focus on learning to think deeply and intellectually, something central to Kenyons mission, they said.
Segal has joked before that he will fire himself when hes 30, too old to keep championing youth rights. Until then, he said, Youve got to either go big or go home; youve only got one life and youve got to make the most of it.
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