Where Are the Obama Youth? Busy Building Their Own Futures
Jamilah King, Colorlines, October 29, 2010
There’s something intangible that makes this year’s election different than most. For many, Barack Obama’s candidacy brought to the forefront a new, more accessible form of democracy. There was a massive communications network that engaged voters online, on the phone, and on their blocks. And there was Obama himself: a man of color who seemed to code switch his way from Chicago’s South Side to Harvard, who talked openly about racial profiling and boasted having Jay-Z on his iPod. He was a well-packaged newcomer who looked, talked, and presumably saw the world through the same eyes as many young people of color. And those eyes weren’t accustomed to the view from the White House.
Though Obama himself warned that his brand of change would be a gradual one, his election inspired many young voters—particularly African Americans—to engage in a political process from which they had long felt alienated. African-American young people voted in unprecedented numbers; their generation was believed to have come of political age in 2008. They had grown up alongside civil rights lore, had been told from birth that they were benefiting from decades of racial, economic and gender struggles that all seemed to culminate on election night in Chicago’s Grant Park. It’s unclear whether young voters themselves were ever willing participants in that narrative. But what’s certain is that two years later, the story arc has become decidedly less triumphant. In cities like Milwaukee, one pervasive question stands above the rest: What has happened to hope?
But youth voter advocates warn that’s the wrong question altogether. If you want to get young people of all colors involved, they say, it’s crucial to understand what drives them into politics. And more often than not, it’s got little to do with partisan campaigns or any particular candidate and much more to do with feeling that they’re heard and can control their own destinies. (Read the full article)