When the Obama campaign inspired and mobilized a wave of new young voters, youth organizers across the country rejoiced. They anticipated increased funding from donors and foundations to help bring this growing voting bloc into policy debates and community organizing. They hoped for increased media coverage for issues ranging from college costs to green jobs to healthcare reform. Instead, youth organizers have often found themselves feeling as if they’re sitting on a bus that’s out of service. As markets crashed, already meager funding pools got even smaller. Most media outlets chose to spotlight the absence of youth at healthcare town halls, which were often staged at empty college campuses over the summer break, rather than the thousands of environmental and education activists who stormed Washington to support reductions of carbon emissions, creation of green jobs and the passage of the DREAM Act. And with a few exceptions, the Obama administration stopped talking to young people directly.
Despite these obstacles, young activists continued to organize. The Nation asked four leading youth organizers to suggest specific ways the Obama administration and the progressive movement could help them succeed in 2010 to mobilize the most diverse and socially progressive generation.
Biko Baker, League of Young Voters
Until 2008 the League of Young Voters had focused most of our advocacy efforts at either the local or state level. Until very recently, flexing our muscle at the federal level seemed like the “out of reach” brass ring. Although we have a number of key local victories under our belt, like many other groups, we entered this year ready and willing to learn how things work in DC.
The biggest lesson we’ve learned through this process is that it is absolutely pivotal for our generation–and the broader progressive movement–to go from “opposition to proposition.” In short, we can’t engage in reactionary politics, where we are only responding to an injustice or negative piece of policy. We will never be able to bring true change to the world if we are only organizing around problems and never getting to the root causes.
But it seems like in the past several months the Obama administration has focused way too much on the naysayers and haters. If it is truly going to be a vehicle for change, it has to stop being afraid of celebrating the extraordinary work taking place at the local level. All across this country young people are developing businesses, coming up with innovations and creating models that could help this country get its swagger back. Put the spotlight back on us and you’ll see a completely different narrative.