'Young people know thinking is patriotic'
These six words, etched on a giant handmade poster board, accompanied a group of 20-somethings last weekend at the Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert dueling rallies in Washington, D.C. One of countless creative, insightful and at times severely sarcastic banners, it in effect summarized the sentiments of the mostly youthful 250,000 Rally for Sanity attendees -- that young folks are intelligent, engaged and willing to lend their time and efforts to anyone who will speak to them. They once presumed this individual to be Barack Obama; they now ask, why has the leader of hope and change so quickly abandoned them?
Reflecting upon the 2008 Presidential election, historians and layman alike undoubtedly touch on the momentous aspect of the campaign, and the unprecedented voter turnout. But in the midst of citing numbers on minorities and progressives that voted for the first time, or the overall remarkable nature of the election, one major significant fact gets too readily dismissed in the conversation -- it was the youth of America that stood with Obama from the onset, overwhelmingly voted for the Senator from Illinois, convinced their parents to do the same and ultimately propelled him to the Presidency.
Among the so-called "millennial generation," the Democratic advantage in '08 was 2-to-1 for Obama with approximately 58% of voters aged 18 to 29 casting a vote for the progressive nominee. Even upon his inauguration in Jan. '09, the President's approval rating among those in their 20s remained at a remarkable 73%, despite the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. With the largest youth turnout in decades, and a virtual army of support across the board, how could the President lose connection with his strongest and arguably most dedicated base?
The midterms were an obvious intense blow to the Democrats and anyone with a semblance of desire to move the country forward. But out of all the shocking headlines that have transpired since last week's elections, the most difficult to digest is the fact that 25% of the electorate that went to the polls was aged 65 and above. Although voter turnout is almost always lower during midterm elections, some 14 million young folks did not participate; and in the end, the vote difference between Democrats and Republicans amounted to only 5 million votes.
At a time when the unfortunate reality of a global economic catastrophe is impacting this very generation the most, how could so many remain apathetic? Even as far back as March of this year, the youth unemployment rate was calibrated at the highest level for this age group since the government began tracking data in 1947. And when current legislation and bailouts will leave young folks bearing the brunt of the balance, how could they not participate in their own future?
The reality is, President Obama rode in on a massive wave of youth support and active engagement. College students emphatically campaigned for him, young people utilized social media to get others involved and for the first time many found a leader they could believe in -- dare I say -- a leader who had the audacity to usher in change. Celebrities like Sarah Silverman urged people to tell their grandparents to vote for Obama, and everyday kids ensured that their parents picked the Democratic nominee. In a historic maneuver, the youth were the ones dictating the conversation and hence the direction of the country.
Then-Senator Obama and his team also clearly understood this dynamic and capitalized on it. They amassed a grandiose and untouchable email list, utilized Facebook and other forms of new media, hired young people and volunteers across the country and Obama himself connected with folks in the digital age by penning pieces in places like the Huffington Post. In short, they understood the need to connect with young people where young people get their news and information -- as opposed to remaining stagnant with traditional media.
So the glaring question that remains for the President on the heels of this devastating midterm election is why he did not draw on the extraordinary wave of energized youth support once he took the helm at the White House? Equipped with a sense of hope, vision and passion never realized before, young people were ready and willing to fight alongside the President and his agenda. Recruiting volunteers in every state and every major city in the nation, the President could have easily communicated his ideas to those that supported him the most - and in essence continued receiving their unwavering dedication. With nothing to do, and nowhere to express their newly discovered political excitement, many young folks quickly fell disillusioned and returned to a state of apathy and disengagement.
Today, with staggering unemployment rates, an economy that shows no real signs of upward improvement and a renewed sense of hopelessness, the youth of America need to feel included and wanted again -- they need a sense of purpose Mr. President. And as young people around the world continue to suffer in stark numbers -- unemployment among 15-24 year olds globally was approximately 81 million out 630 million in '09 alone - we do not want to be remembered as a 'lost generation'.
The small silver lining in this debacle may in fact be what I witnessed at the Stewart/Colbert rallies last week. There is still a strong need for young people to express themselves and to be heard. The next generation is continually seeking that force that will represent them and communicate back to them in a language that they can comprehend. Barack Obama, this used to be you; please remind us all why it can and should be you once again. For we, the youth of America, no longer want to be the abandoned children of a leader that gave birth to a new way forward, a new breed of loyal followers and an endless possibility of hope and change.
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