A Tribute to Generation O

12/04/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Rick Ayers Asst. Professor in Teacher Education at the University of San Francisco

I confess I never really did much. I fretted. I sent emails around to people I knew. I was outraged by the spurious attacks by the idiot-right (the Hannity-O'Reilly-Limbaugh types). But I never got out and did the work for Obama.

In other words, I missed the boat. As an old 60's radical, I've been pretty good at bestowing advice and wisdom from my place of honor. I've learned to deconstruct and reconstruct everything. I've done some decent teaching and writing. But I just did not get it about these young people.

So many times over the past few decades, I have repeated the same thing when speaking to students: We tried to change the world, to leave something better for your generation. We failed. We're sorry. I don't really know what to do next. I leave it to you, your insights, your initiative, your creativity to find a way forward.

Yet, when it came, I failed to notice. Oh, I was excited to see Barack Obama running for the same reasons so many others were. I did see the audacity of hope. I knew that he was still a Democratic Party guy, he would surely disappoint us when he got into office in some respects. So, I calculated, I should hold back, remain the critical outsider to the race.

But I did not see what was right in front of me. The youth movement, the youth uprising, that was the Obama base campaign was something much greater, much more significant than even Obama himself. It was young African American, Chicano Latino, Asian Pacific Islander, Native American, and yes European American youths out there organizing, working hard, day in and day out -- against war, against racism, against the selfishness and crassness of our political culture. They could see that fundamental change could be started with this campaign -- a wave of rising expectations. They built an irresistible force against the lynch mob of the right. They wanted to take history back into their own hands.

These youth put in 12 hour days, 14 hour days. Disciplined as cadre. Serious and focused. Where did they learn this? How did they put it together so fast?

Yes, we can credit David Axelrod and Barack Obama and the many in the center of the campaign who kept their focus and remained smart at every move. But these organizers at the base, actually young and old, rich and poor, what experience brought them here? Was it anger at 28 years of being held down by a deadening right wing political class? Was it their creativity in reappropriating media, creating ways of communicating and making community that were outside of the control of the bosses? Was it the disgust with our position as top of a parasitic empire, doomed to endless wars to shore up power? It was all of these and more.

While we were busy writing them off as slackers or Generation X or Generation Y, they had created Generation Obama, Generation O, right before our eyes. I didn't see it coming. I missed the boat. But may I offer belated congratulations -- you do have the power to write the next chapter.