Monday, October 18, 2010

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Two years ago next month, I was able to cast my first vote in a presidential election, for Barack Obama. I was a college senior at the time and in the months leading up to the election, my college campus was full of the hope and change that the Obama campaign was spreading around the country. I went to a extremely liberal school and Obama buttons and stickers could be seen attached to every backpack outside the dining hall and on the door of most professors' offices. Topics of conversation didn't stray much from the idiocy of Sarah Palin, the fall of John McCain from his pre-2007 persona and the most recent stats on the Democrats' assured takeover from Our older professors told us this is what it felt like when Robert Kennedy was running for president. I don't know if that was true, but I've never felt such a collective sense of joy and hope for the future from my peers.

I was an aspiring journalist at the time, and being the downer that I am, I decided it would be a good idea to go around and interview people about what they thought would happen if Obama lost. I had memories of the tears on my high school classmates' faces the day after Kerry lost in 2004 and I couldn't bear the thought of my generation having to go through another loss like that. I wanted to be prepared for the inevitable and I considered it my civic duty to go around and bring everyone down a notch, just to make sure things didn't get out of control. Because you never know.

The response was encouraging. There was no doubt that if Obama lost, things would not be good, and on my college campus especially--we were so liberal we considered Tom Friedman a war criminal. In the course of my interviews, I was able to talk with the then-Vice President of the College Democrats of America, who happened to be my classmate. He said that the enthusiasm surrounding the election and the political activism that had arisen from it was not contingent on Obama alone. With or without him, the sense of hope and the drive for change would stick with this generation for life.

Two years later, I think he's right. Things have not dissipated since the Obama administration has come into office and my peers seem to still be fighting for change. There's talk about youth voter turnout (and general turnout) being lower this year, but there is so much evidence to suggest that my generation is much more engaged--politically and socially--than the previous. (You would like to see some of that evidence? Well, here's a few nice anecdotes I feel justify that previous statement completely: Young lawyers are deciding to work in nonprofits, Americorps' applicants are sky-rocketing, as are TFA's.) The decision of many of my peers to flock to the nonprofit sector is probably partially due to the crappy economy, but I have a feeling we might stick around for a while.

And this engagement stretches to younger members of my generation too: USA Today recently ran a fascinating article about tweens who volunteer regularly and even start their own nonprofits. For some  anecdotal evidence on this, I just wrote a profile (shameless self-promotion alert!) on a young woman who has already founded a nonprofit at the age of 18. It's clear that even if my peers don't stick around to push for social change, our younger siblings will.

Thankfully, for many reasons, Barack Obama did win the election on that cold November night. (Best Tuesday night party ever.) I am very proud that my first vote for president was for the first black President of the United States, and for one who (I think) will have the most social impact on our country in my lifetime. If I am wrong and Obama's reforms do not pan out to be what he claims nor what we all hope (or his efforts are derailed after the mid-terms), I'm not worried. I know my friends and I will still be around, picking up the slack to drive the country in the right direction.

Disclaimer: The postings on this site are my own and do not represent the positions, strategies or opinions of Venture Philanthropy Partners

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