This essay was originally published by WireTap magazine.
The League of Young Voters’ director Biko Baker reflects how for the first time in his life he saw working-class youth and youth of color truly believe that they can change their country by electing a politician. It’s A New Era
November 5, 2008
I’m not going to lie to you. When Barack Obama first kicked off his campaign less than two years ago I was more than a little skeptical. Like many of my peers from the Millennial Generation, it was hard for me to believe that a man of African decent had a legitimate shot at becoming the President of the United States. I love my country but, after all, the cannons of the US’s unique history are filled with tales of racial discrimination and ethnic prejudice.
But late last year my cynicism was challenged after I took a trip to Des Moines, Iowa to work with a group of high school students involved in the Brown and Black Presidential Forum. Over the years I have spent quite a bit of time in the small Midwestern city and never expected to see so many people from the Hawkeye state working so hard for Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign. At the end of the day, Iowa is one of the whitest states in the union (not to mention Howard Dean’s ill fated effort in 04). But everywhere I went I ran into people, both young and old, who were anxious to tell me how excited they were that the freshman senator was running for President. Their belief in Obama’s campaign truly forced me to reevaluate my perception of the world.
Yet, while mainstream America’s embrace of Barack Obama challenged my worldview, it was undoubtedly the young people living in the League of Young Voter’s target communities that finally convinced me to sip the Obama Kool Aid. All across this country working-class youth and young people of color were standing up and saying that they wanted to be Americans too. Obama’s campaign inspired millions of young people under the age of 35 to became active participants in democracy. No longer feeling shut out of the electoral process, it didn’t matter if they picked up a clip board, performed a rap on YouTube, or forwarded a text message. For the first time the young people I work with on a daily basis were invested in the idea that they could truly change their country by electing a politician.
But don’t get it twisted, these young people aren’t naive enough to believe that all of their problems are going to disappear because Obama will be the next President of the United States (I still can’t believe it!). In fact, the young people in in the League understand that they will continue to face insurmountable odds in truly achieving social mobility. They know well that their communities are facing tremendous financial difficulties, their friends and family members will continue to die in Iraq, and that their environment will continue to teeter on the brink of disaster because of the rapid effects of climate change. But I, along with my peers in the youth movement, truly believe that we have what it takes to conquer these challenges.
Of course, we’ve got a long way to go, if our generation is going to truly capitalize on yesterday’s many victories. Because if there is anything I’ve learned from this historic election season it’s that change won’t come easy. Especially in a country that has so many problems. After all, one election won’t make us less materialistic, reduce our dependence on foreign oil or make us more willing to embrace the rich diversity that exists in this nation. But our landslide victory does give us enough momentum to go into our country’s next chapter with enough confidence to believe that change is truly possible.
Today, I can truly tell you that I am no longer skeptical. After yesterday’s historic election, I honestly believe that this country can become a better place for all of us. It won’t come easy, but we proved that we are ready for a fight.
Rob “Biko” Baker is the executive director of the League of Young Voters. He is also a nationally recognized hip hop organizer, journalist and scholar. Biko is a frequent contributor to The Source, WireTap and serves on Wiretap’s Editorial Board.