Stephen Colbert has no idea what’s about to hit him!
The 47-year-old actor/satirist/television political commentator is in the crosshairs of a fan-based youth movement that wants to publicly recruit him to their cause: A grand master plan to help spark a national conversation about America’s youth unemployment problem, which currently hovers near 50 percent, a 60-year high. If organizers are to be taken at their (hope-filled) word, Colbert will soon be inundated with tens of thousands of tweets, emails and phone calls to his Comedy Central-based television show begging him to be the famous face that defines the “Fix Young America” movement.
The idea to lure Colbert to the cause sprang from the mind of 28-year-old Scott Gerber, whose Young Entrepreneur Council and Gen Y Capital Partners non-profit groups champion all sorts of solutions to youthful joblessness. They push the idea of student loan forgiveness, access to working capital for young startups, the concept of crowd-funding (a pool of publicly donated money to help entrepreneurs establish a business without the burden of bank loans or credit-card debt), and an extensive web of peer-to-peer mentoring across the country. The nonprofits have worked with both Congress and the White House to lay out a legislative blueprint to help young entrepreneurs, and late last year Gerber and his colleagues were recognized by NASDAQ as they rang the closing bell.
So, Gerber’s next big idea is to stage a massive, nationwide Fix Young America rally with Colbert as their national spokesperson. Gerber is unapologetic in describing himself as a “Total Fan-Boy of Stephen Colbert.” In his breathless, rapid-fire way of speaking, Gerber explains, “Let’s face it, Colbert is my generation’s Oprah.” Gerber and his rally partners (including Junior Achievement, MTV, Babson College, and Codeacademy believe Colbert’s stature could make a huge difference in the public’s thinking about the need to employ and nurture young workers.
There is no way to dissuade Gerber that a comedian-turned actor who morphed into a TV political pundit may not be the perfect poster boy for his cause. No one can convince the movers and shakers at Fix Young America that the man who gave cringe-worthy testimony before a House Committee on Immigration last September when he said, “If we don’t want people picking beans, we should make plants that pick themselves,” might not embarrass their group too.
The Fix Young America plan is that at 2 p.m. EDT on April 19, at hundreds of college campuses—including Penn State, Ohio State, Rutgers, UCLA, and MIT—simultaneous rallies will be held to “spotlight the proven solutions already working to propel young workers, including young unemployed veterans, towards unemployment solutions rarely talked about in the public square,” says Gerber. It is hoped that Colbert will appear at one location—say, a campus in New York, where his program originates—and then have his appearance simulcast to all the other rally points.
“Colbert is definitely a voice of this generation,” said Steve Loflin, CEO of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, another important rally-day partner. The NSCS boasts campus groups at 300 institutions of higher learning in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. “The college students I work with really relate to how (Colbert) spends his time and focuses on the issues he chooses. They are excited that he would be the person to stand behind this … He is inspiring to them.”
The Fix Young America movement (they refer to themselves with the hashtag: #FixYoungAmerica) has been quietly anticipating rally day for months. But that’s not the sum total of their work. They have been noodling with, and gathering suggestions about youth-unemployment solutions from, a wide swath of accomplished Americans—from private and corporate-business professionals, academics, and government officials.
“We wanted an across-the-spectrum view,” Gerber said. “From the time a child starts school to the time they graduate. What training will they need? What should their goals, realistically, be? What can they expect?” An official web site, http://fixyoungamerica.com/, has been launched where anyone can submit a suggestion about how to get America’s young people into the work force as tax-paying citizens. According to Gerber, some 50,000 suggestions have been submitted to the site by those who have clicked on the image of a baby wearing a tool belt and holding a smart phone in one hand and a wrench in the other. Among some of the bubble-captioned suggestions:
• Better business education! How do we expect people to start businesses if they don’t know how?• Improve technology education in schools so our babies can create the next iPhone, not just BUY it!• Don’t just teach academics. Put kids to work in real startups. Now that’s learning!
The sum total of the findings will be published in the book, FixYoungAmerica—How to Rebuild Our Economy and Put Young Americans Back to Work (for Good), to be released in early May.
Asked if he worries that the Fix Young America message might fall on deaf, even unsympathetic ears with those older workers who have been unemployed for months or years, Gerber said, “I’m not trying to create war between the generations here. We’re just trying to show America that we’re just not going to let our generation slide into financial ruin. We are willing to put in hard work.”
CEO Loflin says he believes younger workers actually could help catapult older unemployed Americans into action, “They could be inspirations. The unemployed might think, We can learn from them to get up and change some things ourselves.”
Gerber says he realizes economic woes are widespread, but wonders if Americans realize that, “Our generation has been hit far worse than any other. We’re graduating without the needed skills in today’s economy. We can’t get jobs, we can’t think about getting married, having babies or buying a house. We represent the broken dream of America and we can’t let it continue.”
Finally, asked what happens to his Fix Young America movement if Colbert demurs and says he’s too busy to participate, Gerber pauses in his youthfully exuberant, rat-a-tat-tat conversation. And then he says, “Well, I think he’ll be flattered.”
Maybe the TV personality will become convinced that the biggest threat to America isn’t really bears (his running gag on The Colbert Report) but rather a nation of young people left with few economic options.
So, Stephen Colbert…the future of Generation Y apparently hangs in the balance. What say you?