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Heather Smith Headshot

The 9/11 Generation Heals, Proves Its Patriotism

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In the decade since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the nation's young people have been accused of everything from apathy in 2004 to rebuilding the face of the country's electorate in 2008 to sitting out the 2010 midterms due to a fickle "Enthusiasm Gap" when the process of governing got too hard. Still, when news broke late Sunday night that the world's most wanted terrorist, perpetrator of the horrific event that defined their generation's political awakening, had been captured and killed, it was young people who flooded the streets in a surge of patriotism.

As Facebook and Twitter messages pinged on their Blackberries and iPhones, the young people who some critics say are too aloof and technology-dependent to take to the streets and stand for something were connecting with friends and loved ones while organizing impromptu rallies at the White House, at Ground Zero, and college campuses around the country.

Some went to cry for the victims of the attacks and the subsequent decade of war that claimed our young soldiers. Some went to sing "America the Beautiful" and chant "U-S-A" with others who shared their emotions. Some went to stand quietly and witness a moment in American history they thought might never come. They hoped to heal, and celebrate a future in which many of them will be called upon to lead.

It should not be missed that some moments are bigger than the often-smallness of our politics. These young people were not activated by party leaders spewing venom at each other or taking credit for yet another shrewd political punch. They weren't inspired by electoral stump speeches. These are difficult times for them, facing widespread joblessness and uncertainly. Yet they showed up, together.

After the outpouring of their voices that night, no one can argue that the next generation doesn't believe in America or desire to be a part of the process.