As suicide rates continue to rise among young people, students in high schools and colleges across the nation are finding that small, all-volunteer clubs can often make a big difference. They are opening chapters of the Yellow Ribbon Club, a national, nonprofit suicide prevention organization, to raise awareness about depression and suicide among their peers and get help to those who need it.
The Yellow Ribbon Club was founded in 1994. Its creators, Dale and Dar Emme, lost their son, Mike Emme, to suicide. The organization now has over 100 chapters in the United States, and it also has chapters in Australia, Canada and Scotland.
The Club grew as a response to the alarming suicide statistics, especially among young people. Each year, around 5,000 people ages 15-24 commit suicide, and it is the third leading cause of death among people ages 15-24, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' National Strategy for Suicide Prevention and the Massachusetts Alliance of Samaritan Suicide Prevention Services.
Candace Lohr, a junior at Avon Grove High School in Pennsylvania and vice president of her school's Yellow Ribbon Club chapter, has friends that were depressed and wanted to do something to raise awareness about the issue, as well as help her friends. "Depression is fairly common," she said. "Sometimes people really don't see it is a problem until it's too late."
Lohr became involved with her school's group -- which has been around for two years -- when she started chatting with people in the club and saw a commercial for it.
Her school's group raises awareness through education. Throughout the school year, members visit different classrooms and hand out information to students about depression and ways to help, hoping that students will realize that it is a serious problem. "I think it's more of a problem than people suspect it is people don't talk about it that much," said Danielle Wolf, president of the school's chapter. Like Lohr, Wolf joined the organization because she had friends that were depressed.
Suicide rates have risen dramatically over the years among young people. The suicide rate among people ages 15-24 was 4.5 deaths per 100,000 residents in the '50s. By 2002, the number rose to 9.9 per 100,000 residents, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly half of all college students admit feeling depressed at some point in time, and 14.9 percent meet the criteria for clinical depression, according to a 2004 survey by the American College Health Association.
Experts have listed various causes for depression, including stress, relationship problems, genetics and a chemical imbalance of the brain's neurotransmitters. Some blame increasing isolation for depression. According to a recent study published in the Washington Post, a quarter of Americans say they have no one to talk to and confide in.
Some of the most common symptoms of depression include a sudden loss of interest in favorite activities, restlessness, decreased energy, a loss or gain of weight, irregular sleeping hours, and feelings of hopelessness and pessimism.
The members of the Yellow Ribbon Club at Avon Grove High School held more events to stop suicide and depression that they found effective. One of the most popular was a recent movie screening of "The Dead Poet's Society," a film where one of the characters, Neil Perry (Robert Sean Leonard), kills himself because of personal struggles with his father.
Lohr hopes that the different events touched community members and parents and sparked a discussion about the issue. "Sometimes parents are in denial about their child having any type of mental issue," she said. "We're trying to help people realize that it's not a bad thing to be depressed, and it can be fixed."
With only a year until graduation, Lohr and Wolf want to leave the club with enough members to carry on their work. "I want the club to continue, gain more strength and reach the goal of really making people understand about depression and suicide," Lohr said.
This summer, Wolf and Lohr plan to visit neighboring schools and promote the Yellow Ribbon Club. "We originally just wanted to send some informational packets to different schools and guidance offices we thought if we actually went to the school, it might make a bigger impact," said Wolf.
Lohr emphasized that students helping students is one of the best defenses against depression and suicide. "If students can't reach out to their peers, it's difficult to save lives and make the statistics go down," she said. "If more people know about it, more people would be willing to accept it, get help and move on."
When someone is depressed, Wolf believes that a friend has a responsibility to help. "If you're unaware of a hotline in your area you can always call the police, she said. "Take everything seriously."
Johnny Ramone�s unfortunate, untimely death is heart-breaking news but it can also serve as a reminder of the massive impact The Ramones have had on punk rock, the music world and underground counter-culture, in general.
The Ramones started playing music together before I was born. Their raw, groundbreaking sound made the New York venue CBGBs notorious in the mid- 1970s, but that was just the beginning. Twenty years later, when I dove into the punk rock scene in high school, I soon realized their power and passion had a lot to do with the influence they�d had on punk rock music.
That was the year I bought The Ramone�s self-titled first album, the first of the combined 21 studio and live albums they recorded between 1976 and 1996. The record had a fast, low-fi sound that was different than what I�d heard before. The Ramones� musical structure was simple – never more than four guitar chords and a constant beat of the snare drum – but it was addictive. Songs such as �Beat on the Brat�, �Chainsaw�, �Let�s Dance,� and �I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend,� were catchy. Meanwhile, the guitar distortion and the sheer energy behind every song on the album made me pump my first in the air. It quickly became clear to me that The Ramones had created a successful, often-imitated formula. They stripped rock n� roll to the bone, removed the excesses and over-production that had prevailed throughout the 1970s and rattled the world with a fresh, raw sound.
When I picked up a guitar in high school, it was Ramones records that influenced me. Wailing guitar solos by Jimmy Page or Eric Clapton were intimidating and tough to learn. But Johnny Ramone proved that anyone could play rock n� roll. He rarely played more than a few power chords, proving that anyone could play honest music that matters, without a need for the seven-minute guitar solos that were so popular at the time. He played at an intense, pulse-pounding speed that the music world had never seen before. Countless of the punk bands since – Dead Kennedys, Social Distortion, Minor Threat, Black Flag, to name a few – have imitated Johnny�s distorted, four-chord sound.
Today, the band�s influence also extends beyond the punk scene. Last year, a Ramones tribute album was released, featuring an eclectic group of musicians, including Pearl Jam, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rob Zombie, and Kiss. Meanwhile, several modern punk rock bands – from Green Day, to Screeching Weasel – have recorded Ramones covers.
Now that punk rock has become commercialized, far too commercialized for some purists, it is evident that the Ramones were on to something unique. Their influence can be heard on radio airwaves across the country and can be seen in the studded bracelets, belts and band T-shirts currently filling Hot Topic stores and malls across America.
In the twenty years the Ramones played music, they performed live 2,263 times. So, it�s sad to consider that there is now only one living original member. This week, I�ll pick up my guitar and strum a few power chords to my favorite Ramones tunes, honoring a man who made rock n� roll accessible and proved that the guitar can resonate with a sound that is both simple and powerful.
The day after his televised speech to the nation at the DNC, Sen. John Kerry made a stop in my small, blue-collar hometown of Scranton, PA. He was there to reach out to voters and discuss the issues surrounding the impending election. The rally included supporters of both Kerry and George Bush, anti-war activists, pro-life activists, and some who are still undecided about the fall election. There were also a large number of young people there, hoping to hear from the presidential hopeful in person.
During the mining days, a time when many found work in Northeast Pennsylvania, Scranton was a boomtown. Now it�s a small town filled with leftover factories, railroads, and underground mines. Despite city plans to reinvigorate downtown Scranton, many young people flee this �boring� city to attend college or finding work elsewhere. Still, Scranton matters to Kerry because Pennsylvania is a swing state, meaning that it could go red or blue this election year.
To begin the day, an estimated 17,000 people stood in line under a blistering, late July sun in the soaring humidity. Senators Edwards, and Kerry were traveling with their families and with actor, Ben Affleck, whose presence added to the excitement. Those who had various color-coded tickets for the event were slowly ushered through the lines. Security was tight, with the area surrounding the public courthouse of Scranton was blocked off and barricaded. Even those who were lucky enough to have colored tickets couldn�t enter the area in front of the stage until frisked by cops. Like most people, I had a white ticket, which only allowed me to stand behind a metal barricade, packed against thousands of others, far from the stage.
�They make us feel like cattle,� one middle-aged woman behind me said, referring to the security. Meanwhile, the blazing temperature caused some in the crowd to faint, and medics were busy hauling people away in ambulances. Of course, volunteers from the Scranton Democrats chapter tried to get cold water to those in the crowd, but the audience seemed larger than any organizer could have predicted.
The presidential hopeful was late arriving from Boston, but there was no shortage of local politicians to compete for attention and energize the crowd.
�If I had to get into a fox hole, it�s John Kerry I�d want to be in that fox hole with,� claimed Pennsylvania Rep. Paul Kanjorski, bringing light to Kerry�s war record as many others have been done this election season. The mayor of Scranton, also a Democrat, rallied the crowd. �We�re going to be loud and proud!� Mayor Doherty demanded. �We�re John Kerry territory from now on,� he continued, as the crowd roared. Joe Hoefell, who is hoping to defeat current Pennsynvalia senator Arlen Specter in November, also spoke to the crowd, hoping to rally new voters. �Arlen Specter is voting with Bush and Cheney, and I don�t think that�s in the best interests of Northeast Pennsylvania,� he said, launching his attack.
Along with politicians, the anxious crowd members also reminded of the views of a number of different protestors. A group of anti-war protestors lined up on the street to greet Kerry�s bus. One of their signs read, �End the occupation. War is terror.� Another read, �Real pro-life people are anti-war.� Of course, Christians and pro-lifers opposed to Kerry�s pro-choice stance also stormed the crowd. One person sweltered inside a bear suit with a sign that read, �43 million babies will never hug a teddy bear.� An elderly man in the crowd, Charles Densevich, had a red sign that read, in white letters, �Kerry is 100% pro-abortion.� �Abortion is killing. I think it�s murder,� he explained later. Elizabeth Collins, a long-time activist and nurse, debated with Charles. �If a woman becomes pregnant against her will, I want her to have a choice,� she said. The protestors represented the deep polarization in this country, with each side making their presence clear and known.
When Kerry�s campaign bus finally pulled up, all eyes turned to see the senator leaning out the window with a huge smile and a thumbs up for the crowd. He was late but crowd didn�t seem to mind, as they roared and waved blue and red signs.
After brief introductions by Mrs. Edwards, Ben Affleck, and Teresa Heinz Kerry, Sen. Edwards took the stage. Most of his speech praised Kerry�s leadership and military service. �Strong, decisive leadership, is that not what we need in a commander-in-chief?� he asked the enormous crowd. �Don�t we need a commander-in-chief who will lead the world, not bully it?� the senator continued. Before Edwards left the stage, the crowd chanted, �Hope is on the way,� the phrase that has become Edwards� tagline of since the convention. Finally, the man of the afternoon took the stage. Once the crowd quieted, Sen. Kerry spoke. �No wonder they call this the Electric City,� he began, looking out over a sea of faces.
Kerry then went on to compliment his running mate. �He knows the struggle of people in our country,� the Massachusetts senator said of Edwards. �He�s been fighting for the middle class all his life, and he is ready to lead, and I think it will be wonderful,� he continued. Of course, much of the speech focused on the middle class, jobs, and healthcare. Kerry talked about ways that he and John Edwards will �champion for the working class� and vowed to roll back tax cuts for the elite, while keeping them for working-class families. He also said wants to ensure that all Americans receive healthcare, promising that the first piece of legislation he sends to Congress will be a bill to lower the cost of healthcare by the thousands. �It is a right for all Americans, and we�re going to make it available for all Americans,� said Kerry. He also spoke of the tumultuous situation in Iraq, addressing for the first time an issue pertaining to my peers. But unfortunately, his statement left a lot to be desired. Kerry promised that if the administration takes the White House, the senator wants to protect young people from unnecessary wars. �We�re going to do what we need to do to make sure that no young American in uniform is ever held hostage to America�s dependence on oil from the Middle East,� he told us.
He also said he believes that America �never goes to war because we want to,� only �because we have to.� To close his speech, Kerry encouraged all of the crowd to vote. �My friends in Scranton,� he said, �this is the most important election of a lifetime. Everything is on the line – our jobs, our healthcare, our schools, our role in the world, our character as a country. John and I ask you to join us. Enlist in this cause!� As he walked off the stage, the crowd lit up with hope.
From the moment his bus pulled onto Washington Avenue to the instant he left the stage, Sen. Kerry�s visit filled my hometown with excitement. Despite the fact that there were thousands of young voters at the rally, however, Kerry did little to address potential young voters. In fact, I was left wondering: What do they plan to do about the soaring costs of college tuition? If we �had to continue this war,� how does Kerry feel about the draft? Only a third or eligible young people voted in the 2000 election. Why, then, doesn�t Kerry do more to address the issues that affect our generation on the campaign trail? Maybe he thinks that having Ben Affleck along for the ride is enough. I don�t. Now that the bus has pulled away and the team of celebrity-politicians has moved on to the next state, the youth of Scranton � if they�re anything like me – don�t feel like they have any real place in the Democrat's platform this fall.
As November inches closer, reporters and pundits everywhere are predicting a close and spirited presidential race. Young voters, like much of the country, have been polarized over the war in Iraq and a sluggish economic recovery. Until this month.
Since earlier this year, Newsweek Magazine has been polling voters between the ages of 18-29. GeNEXT polls, as they are called, are meant to be a representation of young voter's attitudes toward the candidates. This month, for the first time in the history of the polls, GeNEXT found that more than half of the youth they polled (55%) disapprove of the president's performance. More specifically, 60% of young voters say they don't like the way the president has handled Iraq and 56% of the same voters are displeased with Bush's plans for healthcare, the environment, and education.
All the more reason, then for conservative and Christian groups in America to start cranking up their efforts to get conservative youth voting. It may seem obvious, but much of these efforts are being made through fundamentalist Christian organizations, groups who believe in re-electing a president who is pro-life, anti-gay marriage, and unafraid of biblical references in his speeches. This year, many of them are using the same tactics as the non-partisan and openly left-leaning groups doing voter registration and mobilization.
Take the Christian Youth Project, for example. The group formed this year, and clearly has a conservative agenda, although they do not explicitly endorse Bush. Instead, they couch their goals in broad sweeping language, describing the left as "the anti-God, anti-family left' and the right as "the quiet majority.'
The coalition describes the media as a mouthpiece for Democrats, and predicts a saturation of negative coverage towards George Bush in the mainstream news near the election. They are currently fundraising to run a newspaper ad in battleground states that attacks Senator John Kerry's record in the Senate, accusing him of voting too liberal. According to the group's website the Project is also planning a "highly targeted and sophisticated strategy in 10 of these states to identify newly eligible Christian youth and help those in the military or in Christian colleges apply for absentee ballots, and turn out voting-age Christian high school students and new graduates."
By enlisting an army of "new young citizen leaders' the group is clearly taking cues from groups like The New Voter's Project, the State PIRG-sponsored grassroots youth voter mobilization effort to date, and the veteran Music Industry darling, Rock the Vote.
Speaking of Rock the Vote, 2004 has also seen the arrival of a new non-profit Christian campaign called Redeem The Vote, which borrows heavily from the RTV model, using music to raise voting awareness. Redeem the Vote also claims to be non-partisan, asking open-ended questions such as, "You finally have the chance to save the world. What will you do with it?'
The group has yet to directly attack John Kerry or the Democrats but Redeem the Vote founder, Dr. Randuy Brinson did recently appear on the Pat Robertson show, as well as a slew of other "Family-oriented' programming. Vince Lichlyter, the lead singer of Christian rock band Jonah 33, recently accompanied Brinson in an interview with "Family News In Focus' radio program.
"If Christians don't step up in their term, as far as the voting goes, and make their voice be heard," Lichlyter told their audience, "I think the church in general, as a whole, is going to feel the effect."
Jonah 33 is not alone in their concern about the effects of a Democratic win. Building 429, Down Here, Jeremy Camp, The Katinas, and others have agreed to help Redeem the Vote encourage young people to register and vote at different religious festivals and concerts across the nation.
Other conservative Christian groups are launching their own voting strategies. The Christian Coalition of America, one of the largest right-wring, Christian, and grass-roots organizations in the country, has created "Citizenship Sundays,' encouraging Christians to reach out to members of their church, asking their peers to vote in the fall. However, the group does not specifically target young people.
The Republican National Committee, on the other hand, does. Aiming to register three million young people to vote by the 2004 election for the White House, Reggie the Registration Rig is an 18-wheel truck, complete with multi-media capabilities, an X-box, and a sound stage.
The monstrous campaign vehicle is being driven by Republicans Deke and Christine, a couple from Omaha, Nebr. The vehicle hauls across the U.S, stopping at places like speedways, swapmeets and pro-wrestling events. The campaign's website offers a web cam to track Reggie's destinations and postcards from Reggie's various destinations.
Then there are the conservative punk rockers. Conservative Punk is an organization created by Michael Graves. Graves sang in Jerry Only's (the original bass player for the legendary Misfits) reincarnation of the Misfits, or the "Newfits' as the project is sometimes called. The movement critiques the leftist ideals that have often pervaded the punk rock movement. "I believe this is an age of extremism and in it teen angst is being used as a political tool,' Graves states in an editorial he wrote on Conservativepunk.com.
The movement also hopes to register young people to vote and give a voice to right-wing punks who may have been too fearful to make their voices heard in a predominantly leftist music and cultural scene. ConservativePunk.com features right-wing tidbits and news, cartoons, and columns by conservatives within the punk scene. However, Conservative Punk does not appear to have seen the same level of celebrity support as Punk Voter, the National campaign launched by NOFX front-man Fat Mike. Punk Voter has many of punk rock's most influential heavyweights behind it, such as Dead Kennedys singer Jello Biafra, Bad Religion, Social Distortion, Subhumans, and Jesse Michaels, who led the influential group Operation Ivy in the late 1980s. The first in a series of Punk Voter's two CD compilation Rock Against Bush Volume 1, has sold over 200,000 copies so far. There's no word yet on whether Conservative Punk will release their own compilation that is pro-Bush.
Though many conservative groups are trying to influence young people to vote for Republican in November, John Kerry and the Democratic Party are backed by an impressive amount of star-power. Just a small sampling from the list includes: Dave Matthews, Meg Ryan, Jennifer Aniston, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Delong of Blink 182, actor and funny guy Chevy Chase, Jon Bon Jovi, Ben Affleck, and Sarah Jessica Parker. And while many conservatives bash Hollywood, it might be those in the movie and music who can influence and appeal to youth.
Perhaps it was only a matter of time before the Conservatives got hip to the power of the youth vote. The fact that many of these efforts have cropped up this year suggests that it's not just the liberals who see this election as pivotal. Either way, if things go as planned, 2004 could see a record number of youth – of all political persuasions – showing up at the polls.