The 'Can Kicks Back' at Washington

An unlikely group hits the halls of Congress for "fiscal cliff" debate.

November 14, 2012, 3:08 PM

Nov. 14, 2012 -- Cason Romano is a Washington lobbyist. But you won't see him walking the halls of Congress dressed in a black suit with a leather briefcase and a lunch appointment at Charlie Palmer's.

Instead, he's dressed as an aluminum can, armed with giant red Styrofoam shoes and a lot of talking points about how the national debt will cripple his generation.

Romano, a recent college graduate, is one of the leaders behind "The Can Kicks Back," a non-partisan, millennial-driven demand for a bipartisan debt-reduction deal.

"I'm not sure they'll listen specifically to the can, but the movement as a whole, as it grows, I do believe that it has mass potential to build into something big," Romano, 23, says. "And, yes, they'll pay attention."

The so-called "can-paign" kicked off a week after the 2012 election came to a close, and just as Congress returned to work.

The initiative grew out of co-founder Nick Troiano's experience as the field director for Americans Elect, a social-welfare organization.

In traveling the country in an attempt to put a third-party candidate on the ballot, the Georgetown University graduate student learned that people want results, not rhetoric.

"There is a clamoring for that out there," Troiano, 23, says.

When it comes to U.S. politics, the group claims that politicians have reason not to make young people a priority. They aren't big campaign donors. And they aren't organized like, say, senior citizens or labor unions or others with high stakes in the debt debate.

"It's a Catch-22," Troiano says. "If our elected officials and politicians aren't talking to young people, then young people aren't hearing why it's important they get involved with the issues they care about."

As he sees it, the millennial generation -- mostly the children of baby boomers -- is the can that Washington keeps kicking down the road. "It's our futures, our jobs, our families," Troiano says. "So starting now, we are going to kick back at Washington."

They want Washington to reach a "grand bargain" that's "bold, balanced and bipartisan" -- but by the numbers, pretty much the same size deal older policy makers say would pass the credibility test: $4 trillion in deficit reduction in a decade.

In their effort to educate and mobilize young Americans, they've organized a grassroots network on college campuses and in young professional communities throughout the country. And as a partner of the campaign to Fix the Debt, they've started to gain some traction.

David Walker, former U.S. comptroller general and CEO of the Comeback America Initiative, sits on the organization's board. Walker says the group has "properly recognized that the current fiscal path we are on is not only irresponsible and unsustainable, it's unethical and immoral."

But it remains to be seen whether Washington will listen. "Unless and until their voices are heard, they are likely to continue to be taken advantage of," Walker says. "Politicians respond to those who speak the loudest. Young people, historically, have not been as involved in this important issue. That needs to change if they want policy-makers to chart a different course."

Troiano says, "Young people aren't expected to stand up on this issue. If they do, Washington will listen.The deficit is the biggest issue facing our generation. But young people have been completely silent and on the sidelines about it."

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