An Association Just for Millennials? New Advocacy Group Aims High

The Association of Young Americans hopes to represent to Washington an entire demographic of people: those between the ages of 18 and 35. Ben Brown, the group's founder, was inspired to launch the group based on the comments of a former senator.

Former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson (R-WY) hasn’t been in office for nearly two decades, but he’s still inspiring change in and around the halls of Congress.

An anecdote credited to Simpson and relayed by a Washington Post op-ed writer in 2012 was the impetus for the launch of the first association specifically targeting all young adults. Here’s what Simpson said, according to the Post‘s Matt Miller:

In 1995, when I was a (younger) generational equity worrywart, I asked then-Sen. Alan Simpson how to fix what was clearly coming. Simpson told me nothing would change until someone like me could walk into his office and say, I’m from the American Association of Young People. We have 30 million members, and we’re watching you, Simpson. You [mess with] us and we’ll take you out.

Ben Brown read that article and was inspired—so much so that, four years later, he’s launching the Association of Young Americans, a group that follows Simpson’s model almost to a T. In comments to Vice, the 26-year-old explained that the goal of the group is to highlight the influence of millennials as a voting bloc.

“I think that if a lobbyist walked in supported by tens of millions of young people, it would change the game,” Brown explained to the news outlet.

Getting the word out about a new association, regardless of how valuable and exciting it might be for potential members, is not trivial.

The group charges $20 per year for membership, which comes with an array of discounts. So far, AYA offers discounts with the mattress-maker Tuck and Zest Tea and emphasizes that future benefits will come from companies that “are excited about our own work and vision.”

Ultimately, that funding will go toward the group’s advocacy efforts. Lobbying may be a dirty word to some people, but it’s a practice Brown has defended in Huffington Post op-eds.

“The problem is not lobbying,” Brown wrote last month. “The problem is who has lobbyists.”

In comments to Associations Now, Brown admits that starting a group of this nature isn’t an easy process. The group, having yet to put forth a major marketing campaign, is currently in soft-launch mode.

“One thing I have absolutely learned is that getting the word out about a new association, regardless of how valuable and exciting it might be for potential members, is not trivial,” Brown said. “You can’t sell something if no one has heard about it.”

Creating an association that covers such a large group of people, especially one with a somewhat spotty voting record, might sound crazy to some. But crazier things have happened: Going back in our association history, we know that, like AYA, the formation of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was directly inspired by something a politician said, and that AARP—perhaps a key point of inspiration for AYA, down to the member benefits—launched less than six decades ago and has since become a hugely influential group, with a reach that matches its once-audacious goal of ensuring that seniors had health insurance.

AYA sounds nearly as audacious as AARP probably once did. It’s only a matter of time before we learn whether it can be an influential force.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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