Sunday, August 31, 2008

Obama Kids

If you read Barack Obama’s website, you’ll note that there are frequent refer- ences to “The Movement.” For Obama’s earliest supporters, many of them in their teens, 20s and 30s, their involvement to date has not been in a political campaign, but in a social movement for progressive change; Obama is not their candidate so much as their hero. So it was not surprising to read the article in today’s New York Times, “Political Realities May Pose a Test to Obama’s Appeal to Young Voters,” which explains that some of these young folks felt “marginalized” in Denver and, in general, are feeling uncomfortable about their hero’s behaving like a politician. “We understand the politics of compromise…,” says 19-year-old Ian Bowman-Henderson, “…but we picked him because we didn’t want the same kind of politics – that’s what set him apart.”

Just the other night, I was talking to a friend about the Democratic Convention, and I said that I was happy for these kids that they had a movement to be part of, recalling how connected and productive and grown-up I felt as part of the movements of the 60s and 70s. But as I learned when I volunteered for the McCarthy for President campaign, the rules change once you start working the big room, the White House. That’s just how it is. Working within the system means just that.

I sincerely believe three things: (1) Obama is a politician who is also a genuine leader, one of the first we’ve had in a long time; (2) Obama indeed wants to bring a fresh approach to American governance, but he has to get elected first; (3) Obama cannot win without the efforts of his young, brave army for change. He needs his Movement to hang in with him in order to make it. Let me say that again: Obama cannot win without the efforts of his young, brave army for change. He needs his Movement to hang in with him in order to make it.

If you’re serious about wanting to effect meaningful change in this country, you cannot afford to be impatient or over-sensitive or self-involved, let alone petulant. Being truly connected, productive and grown-up requires drawing strength from within yourself and from each other, as well as the object of your adoration. And you have to trust your leader to know what’s necessary as well as what’s good, and stick with him for the entire process.

It’s much easier, much less frustrating, to not care and to not be involved in making change. It’s hard work and the fun part is small – but the larger, ultimate victory can be thrilling. Can you imagine how differently the country might have developed if, in the wake of the King and Kennedy assassinations in 1968, people had engaged in unprecedented mass expressions of non-violence and commitment to peaceful change, instead of rioting or walking away, and letting McGovern lose to Nixon?

You must register everyone you can, convince the unconvinced and undecided, rouse the politically lethargic and soothe the politically enraged. You must remember that the disciplined, committed conservatives will be working very hard to defeat you. Nothing can change, or be repaired, or be achieved, unless Obama gets elected first. Mahatma Gandhi told his followers, “Even if what you do is of little significance, it is of vital importance that you do it.” Play whatever part you can, no matter how small. Don’t lose heart, don’t lose sight, don’t let go. The weary veterans of past campaigns are depending on you.


Ian Bowman-Henderson said...

Hi MizB,
I'm Ian (from the above article)and I would like to respond to your post. You're absolutely right about the necessity of compromise and continuing to support the Obama campaign without becoming disillusioned by slight changes in policy. However, I think you make a mistake in suggesting that young voters are so involved in the idea of Sen. Obama that his slight changes in policy effect a psudo-emotional response. Youth voters do not see the Senator as a celebrity. To be frank we already lived through the Clinton years, and Pres. Clinton is the archetypal "cult of personality" politico. No, youth are attracted to Sen. Obama because he takes positions on issues that are favorable to us. Youth are issues voters like anyone else, possibly more than many other groups due to one defining factor -- time. Young people have to live in this ever changing nation for longer than older voters. Because of this we are hypersensitive to issues which, if handled incorrectly, have effects that will play out over a long period of time. Chief among these issues is the environment. Even the most aggressive studies show that Generation X and Y will be well advanced in age by the time global warming starts to dramatically effect humanity, but I'll still be in my 50s. Thus the ire in young voters over the possibility of offshore drilling, the same reasoning explains why young voters where so upset over Sen. Obama's vote for amnesty in the whole telecom-wiretapping affair. We have to deal with the slow erosion of the constitution for all of our adult lives now, not just our Golden Years. In the past, young voters often have been uninformed. However, my generation is at the apex of a paradigm shift towards total access to information. Put simply, if we want to learn something, anything really, it is just a click away. There is no piece of information that an older voter has access to which I cannot also access. Therefor it is wrong to assume that younger voters feel personally betrayed when a politician strays from a promise they made; younger voters are simply voting based on the issues most important to them. It is not so different than the response that might be garnered among female voters if a presidential candidate voted against an initiative to equalize pay in the workplace. That being said, I will still be voting for Sen. Obama in November. In fact, I will still be campaigning for him everyday from now until November. That is because he stands the closest to me on the issues.
Ian Bowman-Henderson

MizB said...

Ian -- Thank you so much for your detailed, thoughtful response. I was humbled by it, and rather embarrassed by my original post, which now reads to me as preachy and condescending. I have to admit that I don't connect well with young people, which suddenly strikes me as very sad, given the bright kid I was myself. I'm glad that you and your friends are out there and apologize for underestimating your understanding and commitment. And you're an excellent writer. Sincerely, Jeanne Browne