Tuesday, October 5, 2010

If Young People Don’t Wake Up Before The November Election: “Change” Is Dead In the Water

Dr Mark Naison
Fordham University

One of the most amazing things about Barack Obama’s improbable run to the Presidency was the role of young people in energizing his campaign and persuading their skeptical elders that Obama was the best candidate in the field

I was one of those skeptics. So convinced was I that Barack Obama could never win a Presidential election that I supported an effort to draft Al Gore as the Democratic Presidential nominee and actually printed up stickers that said, Gore/Obama in 2008. My colleagues, most of them African American, were equally wary of an Obama nomination, fearful that it might bring a powerful undercurrent of white racism to the surface with a new intensity.

It was my students, and former students, most of them white and female, who convinced me, not only that Obama was the best candidate in the field, but that he could win, because he had inspired a wave of youthful idealism that I had not seen since the 60’s. These young women didn’t reach me primarily with their arguments, but with their passion and hard work. They were tireless in convincing their parents, classmates and neighbors to vote for Barack Obama, putting their friendships and family ties on the line to bring a great new day in the nation that would end the embarrassment of the Bush years and make America respected once again among the nations of the world.

This passion carried through the primaries and the general election, moved a mountain once though immovable in American politics and led to the election of our first Black president. I still remember the call I got from my former student Jenn Watts, who in her mid twenties was placed in charge of organizing Southern Indiana for the Obama campaign, telling me “ Dr Naison, we are going to paint this red state blue” and didn’t you know it, Indiana went for Obama by a small margin

Now, two years later, I wonder of that explosion of youth activism was a dream. With critical mid term elections coming up in November, what I get from the young people in my circle is indifference and apathy. Not one of my students or former students has sent a message to my email list urging them to vote in November. Not one has posted a message on Facebook pointing out the powerful issues at stake in the coming elections. Not one has handed me campaign literature, asked me to donate money to a candidate, or even brought the elections up as a subject worth discussing.

To me, given the issues at stake in the November election, this is both disturbing and astonishing. If young people voted for “Change” in 2008, what they are going to assure, by not voting in 2010, is complete Political Gridlock.

If Republicans win control of Congress in 2010, here is what it is likely to mean:

No major investments in infrastructure repairs
No national commitment to developing alternative energy sources or providing incentives to drivers, homeowners and businesses to become more energy efficient
No construction of a high speed rail system comparable to those that exist in Europe and Asia
And end to unemployment benefits for people experiencing long term joblessness
No pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, even those who have been working and paying taxes for years
No expansion of rights for gay workers and families

To put the issue more bluntly, the Obama administration, in its first two years, helped prevent a Depression, and created a health care plan which began to extend coverage to the nation’s more than 45 million uninsured people. What it was not able to do was begin to modernize the nation’s roads, rails and electrical grid, and make the investments in wind and solar energy necessary to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and retard Global Warming.

These are precisely the programs that are needed if our economy is going to be able to compete with other advanced nations and if we are going to be able to maintain our standard of living without putting intolerable pressure on the world’s resources.

In short, what is at stake in November is precisely the issues that young people ought to be getting excited about, as it is THEIR futures that are going to be compromised if progressive infrastructure policies, environmental policies, immigration policies and human rights policies are not introduced

So my students and former students, it’s time to get the fever for change back and make sure you vote in the November elections.

You still have a month left. The game isn’t over

Get off your butts and get everyone you know to join you at the polls.

The future you save may be your own.

Peace Out,

Dr Mark Naison
October 5, 2010