January 18, 2008
(Editor’s note: Young People For are holding their national convention this week in Washington, D.C., January 17-21.)
Founded at the dawn of the Reagan ’80s by TV legend Norman Lear, the mind behind the opinionated meatheads of All in the Family, People for the American Way (PFAW) has a history of working with idealistic youth, as well as charting the ascendancy of right-wing power structures. Lear originally formed the organization to counteract the evangelical blather of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, back when they were considered fringe radicals. Now, thanks to the evangelical-backed rise of the Bush administration, PFAW’s enemies can no longer be considered radicals. They are now called The Establishment.
But, as Isaac Newton correctly noticed, for every action there is an equal yet opposite reaction, and PFAW is no exception. Their organization has only diversified as right-wing politics took firm root in the global landscape, especially in America, where things have gone from bad to worse in a hurry. PFAW has been at the ready with solutions, from a foundation dedicated to voter education and outreach to the Latino-specific civic engagement group Democracia USA to the progressive youth initiative Young People For (YP4), which launched in 2004 after one term of Bush rule made it exceedingly clear that, if anything, change was only going to come when the kids in America took charge of their country.
Here Come the Youth
Since then, youth participation in midterm and national elections has skyrocketed, and slowly but surely change has come to the nation. And the timing couldn’t be better, as the 2008 election draws near and everything from an economic recession to a climate crisis looms. After decades of being told what to do by their elders and getting little for it in return, the kids may end up saving all of our hides.
“The energy, creativity, intelligence and passion of this generation can solve any issue we face,” promised Iara Peng (pictured right), director of YP4 and deputy director of PFAW’s national programs and outreach. “YP4 is in this movement because we believe that engaging young people is the best, and in some cases, only solution that will bring about lasting results.”
But progressive are not the only ones engaged in long-term youth movement development: On the other side of PFAW’s political spectrum, right-wing organizations have dropped millions into like-minded groups’ coffers, training tomorrow’s next neoconservative generation to trumpet the party line on taxation, immigration and other hot-button issues. According to YP4, those organizations have gone so far as to target specific individuals in academia and elsewhere as “anti-American,” a tactic that generally backfires on Conservatives. But the Right’s efforts at youth investment have been rewarded with resounding success: Bush administration mastermind Karl Rove himself was the executive director of the College Republican National Committee, although he ironically dropped out of college to take the job.