09/27/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Young Obama Supporters Make an Old Paradigm New

DENVER -- When the by-then-no-longer-presumptive presidential nominee Barack Obama takes the stage at Invesco Field on Thursday, most of the campaign volunteers staffing the event will be less than twenty-five years old. This fact suggests that Barack Obama has already brought about some of the open-ended change he has now promised for more than a year. In this case, that change is not just the political engagement of the 18-25 year old voting demographic, but also the galvanizing of that demographic on such a scale that it might actually make a difference in November.

In 2004, MTV and P. Diddy, among others, called upon that same demographic to "Vote or Die." When the electoral dust cleared, it appeared that the 18-25 year-old demographic (my demographic) had selected the "Die" option. In a less metaphorical mode, it is worth noting that since the Iraqi war of choice began, the vast majority of the more than 4,000 women and men who have indeed given their lives are of our generation. Yet in comparison with the anti-war activism and civil disobedience of our parents' generation, we have often seemed to take a distinctly relaxed approach to both protest and politics. We have appeared this way to politicians, political observers, and registrars of voters. Of course, many of our critics are veterans of the unprecedented anti-war protests and political upheavals of the 60s and 70s. Their perspective on our generation has certainly been affected by the seemingly more dramatic nature of the events that defined theirs. Though we are the heirs-apparent to the idealistic dreams and aspirations (fulfilled and otherwise) from our parents' generation, we too largely accepted the assessment of our generation as politically disengaged, dispassionate, disaffected.

What I hope will become increasingly clear after Thursday night is how mistaken that fairly damning judgment of our generation's remoteness from politics really is.

We do live in very different, though certainly no less interesting times. Iraq is not Vietnam. The Iraqi and Afghan wars have been fought without even the threat of a draft. Whether this was a deliberate political decision or merely a by-product of an ill-conceived foreign policy is open to question. The absence of a draft has undoubtedly reduced the active and vocal opposition of our generation to the Bush-Cheney-McCain wars.

But the numbers of young volunteers on the Obama campaign and of newly registered voters whom Obama has inspired suggest that, after all, we are deeply engaged in politics, but in a way very different from that of our parents. Rather than staging demonstrations like our parents did, rather than working from outside the political system to affect changes in government policy, Invesco Field's young staffers and the campaign network they stand for illustrate a new political reality: my generation's form of activism is to work within the political process for a candidate who inspires us. That candidate is Senator Obama. It seems that this time we have decided to "Vote" rather than "Die." We won't know the impact of my generation's version of political engagement till November. But the simple fact that we are finally taking an active role in the political process is, like much here in Denver, a cause for hope.

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