Monday, September 15, 2008

What is "Youth Political Involvement?"

That question has been on my mind for a long time.

For many months of this election TV commentators and political observers have noted that young people are incredible involved in this election and that, especially with the help of Barack Obama, a new wave of political activism is brewing in America's up and coming generation.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't feel the same way. In fact, after looking at the electoral map projections this morning (HERE) I started to wonder just how long this "youth involvement" is going to last.

When I was in high school I helped to start a political magazine compiled with opinion pieces, news articles, and photographs all written or taken by students. After three issues the number of students involved rose from 15 to about 25, an accomplishment I was proud of. Though I don't believe that magazine can grow to encompass a much larger group of students, I strongly believe that once created, a rallying point for student political interest like a magazine can sustain itself over time. The same is true for established Model United Nations groups and "College Democrats"-type organizations. Sustained involvement in presidential politics is a lot harder to establish.

In the same way I have heard African-American political analysts note that no matter who wins the election this November, the ongoing fight for equal rights and racial equality in America could be set back (as some would say that electing a black president is the last significant hurdle yet to jump), I view youth involvement in politics similarly.

Should Barack Obama win this November, millions of young people who skipped classes on primary day to hold "Honk for Change" signs will feel like their political involvement was the key to Obama's victory, their minimal actions seemingly all that it takes to put their first beloved candidate in office. And should Barack Obama lose, millions of young people who made hundreds of phone calls, knocked on doors, volunteered at their local Obama campaign office, etc., will feel like their extraordinary efforts did nothing to change the American political landscape.

Either way, it seems hard to imagine a scenario in which youth involvement can increase after the 2008 election. Why? Can you imagine young people marching in the streets with "Joe Biden for Change 2016!" or "Hillary for Hope!" signs?

Barack Obama is the dominant force behind the present increase in young political involvement, not a collective realization among young people that issues like the War in Iraq, healthcare, and the banking crisis desperately need to be resolved.

How many young people rallied around LBJ after JFK?


Anonymous said...

My most memorable moment at the RNC was watching Governor Palin's speech from the floor. As Governor Palin began speaking, the excitement and energy in the room started to build among the crowd who had been warmed up by Governors Romney and Huckabee as well as Mayor Giuliani. By the end of her speech, the atmosphere in the convention center was truly electric. It's exciting to see that the level of enthusiasm among supports has been sustained in the past few days since the convention.

Watching Senator McCain speak was also a once in a lifetime experience. Everyone in the convention center was moved by his story of how being a POW changed his outlook on life, and made him truly fall in love with his country. When Senator McCain gave his charge at the end of the speech, all the convention attendees were on their feet cheering at the top of their lungs.

The RNC didn't need a Greek temple stage to get the crowd worked up. The heroic, principled, and inspiring words of Senator McCain and Governor Palin did the job just fine.

Anonymous said...

This is the sort of sentiment that will setback the youth movement. For the past decade (which is as long as I have really followed politics) I have been told that you can never trust the youth vote. I was told that they may be involved in the weeks leading up to the election, but once election day finally rolled around they would rather stay at home and watch TV. The one thing that can break the youth vote from this mold is a drastic need for change. I believe that the youth vote, like the rest of America, is ready for change. On a day in which the Dow fell over 500 points, Lehman Brothers filed for Bankruptcy (which will lead to the loss of thousands of jobs), and the continuation of a war based on lies and deceit, Americans are at their wits end.

While I do agree that the enthusiasm and message of hope that Obama stands for helps him with the younger generation, it would be naive to say that that is the reason for such an outpouring of support. Both campaigns seem to have lost sight of what this election is really about: the future of America. If anything disheartens the youth vote it is the constant bickering and whining that occurs on both sides of the aisle. That is what will ultimately decide whether my generation stays involved in politics or not. I sure as hell hope that we do, cause right now it looks that if we want change we will have to change things ourselves.

Anonymous said...

I agree that the youth involvement sparked by the Obama campaign isn't likely sustainable. I think that in running a campaign not policy-driven, Obama is actually helping to obfuscate politics to youth in general.
If you ask politically apathetic youth why they don't care about politics, it's because politics seems like something vague-- like something that happens on TV, in another world.
While attempting to run a campaign not based around policy, but around camaraderie, feeling good and communal accomplishment, Obama might be garnering short-term youth supporters who already politically inclined. However, I think in avoiding the issues he is continuing to mystify politics to those apathetic, yet-to-be-engaged youth minds.
A meandering and trite speech about women's suffrage, human prophecy, equality, etc. doesn't make politics any more real or tangible than boring ol' white guys. Quiz an Obama supporter on their reasons for supporting him-- is political policy even one of the first five things they mention?
In sparking interest in this dumbed-down, MTV version of 'politics'-- feel good about yourself for supporting me; in supporting me you are kin with former slaves, the racially repressed and all other great americans-- Obama could actually be HURTING long-term political interest of today's youth.

Anonymous said...

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There was an other thing you mentioned that sort of hit home with me when you said how young voters will be demoralized if obama doesent win, because all their hard effort will have gone to wast. For me barack is the first political figure who I have really been attached to, in the past I just supported who my parents did. With barack he was able to convince me that he was actually diffrent from every politician I have ever seen before, and for the first time I had and arguement with my partents over who to vote for. If Obama loses (which for the first time in a while seemes like a posabliity) I wont as much feel like my efforts went to waste but I will lose my confidence in the democratic process as the best way to pick the best man for the job. I feel that it cant be a represenative democrocy if the 2 people elected (palin in partichular) are against almost everything I beleive in.