Keep Fighting for the Change You Believe In

10/29/2010 05:26 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Joe Hill Chairman, Philadelphia Youth Commission

Do you remember the election season of 2008? It was my sophomore year. I'm a senior now. And after a lot of hazy, misspent weekends, two rounds of finals, and a couple of hot summers, it seems like the only thing that's really changed is the music shuffling in and out of my iPod.

We're an impatient people. We want our demands met and met quickly; and we're not too keen on excuses about why something's taking longer than expected. Unfortunately, our generation's politics have fallen victim to the same phenomenon. In an era of digitally manufactured instant gratification, the "hope and change" rhetoric of 2008 kind of led us into an idealistic complacency. Perhaps we did really think that manna would fall from heaven on inauguration day without any particular exertions on our part. We were doomed to be disappointed.

But something else is also eroding our confidence and causing us to tune out. The same forces that have delayed economic and social progress throughout history are just as morally repugnant, corrupt and destructive as ever, but lately they've become even more energetic, well funded and savvy. But we shouldn't let our hopeful optimism succumb to debilitating doubts about whether our political system can solve our toughest problems. The right wing thrives on the frustration of young progressives, because they know that we are the ones that served as the catalyst for transformational change throughout history.

Remember: whether it was the minimum wage and Social Security in the 1930s or civil rights and Medicare in the 1960s, accusations of socialism and tyranny were just as commonplace then as they are now. The right wing rhetorical machine of today is no different - just amplified by a genuine fear that we may actually be on the verge of changing something. Today, as in the past, we are beset on all sides by the callous, phony scare tactics of the powerful and privileged -- the "angry rich" who'd rather invest their money in offshore banks than in the American people. And they're counting on political apathy and cynicism -- especially among young people -- to prevent mobilizations for change and electoral victories in November.

Yes, the news right now is depressing: the economy's still bad, Republicans are convinced that President Obama is a secret Islamo-facist, hell-bent on destroying America from within, and poverty is rising as steadily as the sea-levels. We're at war at home and abroad -- embroiled in two seemingly endless conflicts that have been eclipsed by the media's obsession with the faux populism espoused by the Tea Party movement. I'll admit it: As I close the news tab on my browser, I download some music to drown out the noise from the foaming mouths of the talking heads.

But it's important to remember what we have helped our president accomplish: we pushed through the largest effort to help students pay for college in decades, investing $36 billion into the Pell Grant program. We've ensured that consumers are protected from surprise charges and arbitrary rate increases from credit card companies. And although the stimulus package has been demonized, according to the impartial Congressional Budget Office, it saved or created about 3.3 million jobs and pulled us from the brink of another Great Depression. The Recovery bill also represented the largest investment in roads and bridges since the Interstate Highway bill, and the largest renewable technology initiative in our nation's history.

And don't forget health care: 32 million Americans working tirelessly to achieve the American dream now have access to some coverage. And young adults can stay on our parents' healthcare plan until we're 26 -- providing us with stability and security in a job market that's likely to remain volatile and uncertain for years.

All of these accomplishments could be quickly undone if we don't vote for candidates who plan to govern according to progressive values and principles. If the Republicans win the House of Representatives, the third most powerful man in America will be John Boehner -- you know, the guy famous for handing out checks from tobacco lobbyists to his colleagues on the floor of the House of Representatives. His agenda? Place a moratorium on all new federal regulations and extend tax cuts for America's richest 2 percent, adding a whopping $700 billion to our deficit.

It's clear who Boehner's real allies are. When Wall Street reform was coming to a vote earlier this year, Boehner called together an exclusive coterie of right-wing billionaires to his office for a private strategy session. In this meeting, Boehner reportedly said, "We need you to get out there and speak up against this." As billionaire Warren Buffet affirmed a few years ago, "There's class warfare, all right, but it's my class, the rich class, that's making war, and we're winning."

Compare Boehner's meeting to a meeting Franklin Roosevelt held with progressive activists in the midst of the Great Depression. He listened attentively to their concerns, and when they finished, he said, "You've convinced me. Now go out and make me do it!" With a little more focus, patience and resolve, we can make President Obama and Congress move our country into the 21st century.

Not a whole lot changes in two years. In spite of my hard work since freshman year, my cumulative GPA can attest to that. But if you're busy with school or work -- as most of us are -- and have fallen victim to the notion that nothing's changed since 2008, it's really important to put things in perspective and recognize that there are clear choices to be made at the voting booth this election season.

Although the economic news remains dismal, we've managed to put this country on a more just and sustainable path. But one thing hasn't changed: if we allow the Republicans to sit in the driver's seat, they'll legislate with the same social Darwinism disguised as economic policy that sowed the seeds of our near collapse.

On Nov. 2, Election Day, we have to send a strong message that we're not as politically turned off as pundits have suggested. We're hopeful and optimistic about the future, mindful of the fact that our president is only as powerful as the people behind him.