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Ilana Ross Headshot

Before Vampires, There Was Politics

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I hope the recent fascination with fantasy doesn't have larger escapist implications for the world of politics.

I like to think of myself as one of those "idealistic young kids" on whose back Barack Obama built his successful 2008 presidential campaign. I canvassed and I caucused, and I wasn't alone: The Obama campaign harnessed youth involvement, made college campuses an integral part of grassroots organization and Obama devotees achieved near cult-like status. If Obama created a veritable youth army, what are all those budding community organizers and change-makers up to now that the mid-term elections are upon us?

A member of Gavin Newsom's student organization called me to ask if they could count on my support of the San Francisco mayor's race for Lt. Governor of California. As I listened to the eager high school student recite her rehearsed spiel, I remembered my own not so distant days of political cold calling. I drifted off in fond remembrance of my one-time political engagement, of going door-to-door in hostile territory, and of phone banking until my rollover minutes expired and my ears ached from the sound of the dial tone.

I wanted to tell the young volunteer on the line that of course she could count on my support, that I was so pleased that there were young folks out there on the political battle lines, that I was once like her, that I knew the thrill of working for a candidate you believed in with all your heart and underage soul. Instead, I told her I wasn't sure if I had established California residency or if I could even vote.

I felt ashamed that I'd been so lazy about securing my most important patriotic duty, next to recycling. What's happened to me? What's happened to all of us, the once hopeful and changeful?

During the '08 election, my peers and I would wear our political allegiances on our sleeves and buttoned on our monogrammed tote bags. We'd discuss polling like we actually understood the sophisticated mathematics behind it. When we talked about a New Dawn, we were talking about the promise of a future America, not the latest installment of the vampire romance series Twilight, which really has an unhealthy monopoly on "young-adult" minds. Imagine, politics was more popular than the zombies and vampires and werewolves combined!

It can't be that our passions aren't still stirred by the state of politics. As I followed them, last week's primaries were certainly about taking a stand of some kind. Everyone was talking about how the country is suffering from a raging case of "anti-incumbency." We broke out in splotchy red hives, characteristic of only two things: dengue fever and Republican insurgency. From South Carolina to California, Americans took to the polls to vote for charismatic politicians and Republican plants who stood for change.

Maybe this time around, it's our politicians who are lacking, resorting to cheap thrills over genuine substance. So many of our candidates are gimmicky and superficial. It's telling that Moldovan beauty queen Orly Taitz pulled in almost 400,000 votes, by spewing conspiracy theories authenticated only by her online law degree. Her stories were spicy, but as fictional as Edward and Bella's moonlit romance. Worse, people like Taitz make it too easy for politics to become a spectator sport, more spectacle than a participatory endeavor. Sure, there's plenty to laugh about, but a lot less to inspire.

Even if this election season disappoints, it shouldn't be an excuse to disengage or retreat. The most promising part of Obama's campaign was the idea that our best days were still ahead: an energetic younger generation would lead the charge for a new kind of politics. That's the kind of change I'd still like to believe in.

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