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Young Organizers Speak: We Are a New Coalition for the Common Interest | The Nation

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Young Organizers Speak: We Are a New Coalition for the Common Interest

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Matt Singer and Jefferson Smith

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Tune in all day Thursday to watch Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Sherrod Brown and others at the New Populism Conference.

The third in a series of debates between The Nation and The National Review, moderated by Roll Call.

November 10, 2008

A President impeached. Chads hung. Two towers fell. A nation invaded. A city drowned. An economy gasping. Now a generation calls itself into service.

The past ten years have been a strange time to grow up politically.

For the many young organizers involved in this year's election, Barack Obama's victory is as appropriate as it is exciting. In just a few short years, we have taken giant leaps from the media-driven, disaffected, and polarized politics of the '60s toward a politics that combines the grassroots of Saul Alinsky with a big tent mindset that neither ignores principles nor puts partisan affiliation first. Driving the change are young Americans who appear innately comfortable with radical centrist governance to transform our nation without deluding ourselves into thinking that policy-making is mostly a matter of cowardly triangulation.

Our country's change of direction, and our generation's rise, could not come at a more important time.

We face great and well-known challenges. Our "sick care" system swallows 16 percent of our GDP (up from 6 percent in 1973) but we fail to cover 50 million Americans. We occupy Iraq while bin Laden roams elsewhere, and our foreign policy still pretends that two oceans and a fence can keep the world at bay. Wealth disparities reach historic levels and real jobs have given way to Ponzi-style trading.

Ayn Rand's heirs may have received their just desserts, but they've brought enough spoons for all of us (ironically, this may be the first time most of us will share in Wall Street's fortunes). Our ill-maintained bridges and levies deteriorate, as we invest in tax cuts for day traders instead of roads for the rest of us. We delay in seizing the huge opportunities facing us in a post-fossil-fuel economy. Meanwhile, our school schedules still take summers off for the harvest.

Now, just as the nation needs a new direction, the Millennial Generation is coming of age. As we watch a failed former CEO and current president hand over the White House keys to a former community organizer, a new generation of publicly minded Americans is coming of age and choosing service over self.

This generation--our generation--can move beyond old battles of single-issue silos and narrow constituency interests into broader rainbow coalitions of new progressives. Our media-fed Attention-Deficit-Disorder prefers attainable objectives to fixation on process.

Our hope is that this year launches change beyond the 2008 results. The central challenge of democracy is not whether a citizenry can make correct binary choices every two or four years. The challenge of democracy is whether a populace of divergent interests can come together to accomplish common objectives.

We have an opportunity right now to build a lasting constituency for the common interest, and the Millennial Generation must help lead that charge. No Presidency can do it alone. With work, we can do it together.

In 2009 and beyond, we need to ask ourselves not merely to engage in politics, but to redesign the mechanisms by which we govern ourselves. We need to ask our next generation not merely to vote, but to change the world.

Jefferson Smith is Founder of the Oregon Bus Project and Representative-Elect, State of Oregon. Matt Singer is CEO of Forward Montana. Both organizations are a part of the Bus Federation--a group that mobilizes young voters and develops young leaders in five Western states.

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