The Presidential Summit at the inaugural ServiceNation event at Columbia University tonight was fascinating to watch. But it wasn't so much the heavyweight presidential contenders that were mesmerizing, rather the thousands and thousands of young people who came to Columbia and sat on the lawn and the steps of Low Memorial Library, on the walls and banisters and sidewalks and if the security guards had let them they would have hung out of the windows to watch an enormous outdoor video screen of the event happening about one hundred yards away indoors.
I have been to a Super Bowl, and even to one or two operas. I was at Invesco Field in Denver when Senator Obama accepted the Democratic nomination. Yet, I have never seen a large audience as quiet, rapt and intense as the young people on the lawn. In unison they sat to watch the candidates interviewed and then stood to stretch during commercial breaks. They were largely polite during McCain's segment - although derisive hoots and some boos were heard when he emphatically stated that ROTC should be allowed on campus.
Obama was, of course, on his home turf at his alma mater with his most vocal and passionate supporters in attendance; well-educated, young people. A mighty roar did go up when Obama came to the stage. And yet, the rapt audience quickly quieted down and sat so as not to block the view of the person(s) behind them. There was no multi-tasking going on. Cell phones were tucked away accept for an occasional call to find a buddy, laptops were in dorm rooms or backpacks. Honestly, you could have heard an ear bud drop.
As I wrote in Social Citizens, a paper commissioned by The Case Foundation, I find the enthusiasm for social change and facility with technology of Millennials awe-inspiring. They are passionate about this election; but polite about other people's choices, which was amazing to see on a campus that was literally torn apart exactly forty years earlier during another national election.
And now, just a few observations on the actual presentations:
* Contrary to Judy Wodruff's introductory statement that Time Magazine "launched the national service movement" last year, the national service movement has been growing in size an stature for several decades. In fact it has grown in size as quickly as computer chips have decreased in size. As a participant in the development of the national service field during the 1990s, I am astonished at the maturation of the field. National service is not an add-on program or an afterthought for politicians trying to appeal to young people. As we hear during the introductory remarks, volunteerism and service are embraced by corporations like Target that gives 5% of its revenue and millions of hours of voluntary service a year by employees, government at all levels, young people in school and immediately out of it, and twenty million AARP members a year. Volunteerism has always been a fundamental part of American culture; it is now a central part of our economy as well.
* Observers of events like this, meaning people like me who are housed in rooms filled with sister bloggers, are aglow with a potpourri of social media gadgets - we are writers, photographers, videographers, bloggers, and, using Twitter, microbloggers. That's a lot of wires to cross and flash drives to juggle. My colleague Julia Rocchi of The Case Foundation Twittered that she was watching my laptop screen as I was Twittering making it macro-micro blogging experience! I won't attempt to figure out what blogging now about our macro-micro blogging experience might mean!
* There is an intersection of politics and volunteerism happening now that I don't quite understand right now. Not nonprofit organizations interest in shaping public policy, that's been going on for a long time; think about the way education reform groups and health care organizations have been educating members and constituents and lobbying Congress for years. I mean that volunteerism and community service have become important elements in political campaigns and that means something, I'm just not sure what yet. If anyone has any ideas, feel free to let me know, otherwise, I'll sleep on it.