Archive for the ‘Youth Empowerment’ Category

14-Year Old Boy Stands Up for Gay People Everywhere

December 30, 2011

This boy gives me hope for the world.  He shows more wisdom, maturity and comfort than most people on this planet. We need more people like him, giving others the courage to talk about embracing who they are.

“I too hope that one day people can be judged not by the color of their skin or by the people that they love but by the content of their character.”


Courtney Martin on Today’s Feminism

December 6, 2011

“The mainstream media often paints my generation as ‘apathetic,’ but I think it’s much more accurate to say we are deeply overwhelmed.” –Courtney Martin

A Snapshot of the Current Sentiment of Millennials

November 14, 2011

Posted at 06:58 PM ET, 11/11/2011

Penn State, my final loss of faith

By Thomas L. Day

I’m 31, an Iraq war veteran, a Penn State graduate, a Catholic, a native of State College, acquaintance of Jerry Sandusky’s, and a product of his Second Mile foundation.

And I have fully lost faith in the leadership of my parents’ generation.

Penn State football coach Joe Paterno arrives home Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2011, in State College, Pa. (Matt Rourke – AP)I was never harmed by Sandusky, but I could have been. When I was 15, my mother, then looking for a little direction for her teenage son, introduced me to the Second Mile’s Friend Fitness program. It was a program resembling Big Brother, Big Sister with a weekly exercise regimen.

Instead of Sandusky’s care, I was sent to a group of adults, many of whom were in their 20s. They took me from a C-student to the University of Chicago, where I’m a master’s student now. They took the football team’s waterboy and made a 101st Airborne Division soldier.

I was one of the lucky ones. My experience with Second Mile was a good one. I should feel fortunate, blessed even, that I was never harmed. Yet instead this week has left me deeply shaken, wondering what will come of the foundation, the university, and the community that made me into a man.

One thing I know for certain: A leader must emerge from Happy Valley to tie our community together again, and it won’t come from our parents’ generation.

They have failed us, over and over and over again.

I speak not specifically of our parents — I have two loving ones — but of the public leaders our parents’ generation has produced. With the demise of my own community’s two most revered leaders, Sandusky and Joe Paterno, I have decided to continue to respect my elders, but to politely tell them, “Out of my way.”

They have had their time to lead. Time’s up. I’m tired of waiting for them to live up to obligations.

Think of the world our parents’ generation inherited. They inherited a country of boundless economic prosperity and the highest admiration overseas, produced by the hands of their mothers and fathers. They were safe. For most, they were endowed opportunities to succeed, to prosper, and build on their parents’ work.

For those of us in our 20s and early 30s, this is not the world we are inheriting.

We looked to Washington to lead us after September 11th. I remember telling my college roommates, in a spate of emotion, that I was thinking of enlisting in the military in the days after the attacks. I expected legions of us — at the orders of our leader — to do the same. But nobody asked us. Instead we were told to go shopping.

The times following September 11th called for leadership, not reckless, gluttonous tax cuts. But our leaders then, as now, seemed more concerned with flattery. Then -House Majority Leader and now-convicted felon Tom Delay told us, “nothing is more important in the face of a war than cutting taxes.” Not exactly Churchillian stuff.

Those of us who did enlist were ordered into Iraq on the promise of being “greeted as liberators,” in the words of our then-vice president. Several thousand of us are dead from that false promise.

We looked for leadership from our churches, and were told to fight not poverty or injustice, but gay marriage. In the Catholic Church, we were told to blame the media, not the abusive priests, not the bishops, not the Vatican, for making us feel that our church has failed us in its sex abuse scandal and cover-up.

Our parents’ generation has balked at the tough decisions required to preserve our country’s sacred entitlements, leaving us to clean up the mess. They let the infrastructure built with their fathers’ hands crumble like a stale cookie. They downgraded our nation’s credit rating. They seem content to hand us a debt exceeding the size of our entire economy, rather than brave a fight against the fortunate and entrenched interests on K Street and Wall Street.

Now we are asking for jobs and are being told we aren’t good enough, to the tune of 3.3 million unemployed workers between the ages of 25 and 34.

This failure of a generation is as true in the halls of Congress as it is at Penn State.

Perhaps the most vivid illustration this week of our leaderless culture came with the riots in State College that followed Paterno’s dismissal. The display resembled Lord of the Flies. Without revered figures from the older generation to lead them, thousands of students at one of the country’s best state universities acted like children home alone.

This week the world found the very worst of human nature in my idyllic Central Pennsylvania home. I found that a man my community had anointed a teacher and nurturer of children, instead reportedly had them hiding in his basement. The anger and humiliation were more than I could bear. I can’t wait for my parents’ generation’s Joshua any longer. They’ve lost my faith.

Thomas Day is a graduate student at the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago.

The Kids Are Actually Sort of Alright

November 7, 2011

A pretty on-pare description of the millennial generation — our mentality, our struggles, and our hope — in New York Magazine.

My screwed, coddled, self-absorbed, mocked, surprisingly resilient generation.

Every generation finds, eventually, a mode of expression that suits it. Cavemen drew lines on their cave walls. Sixties kids marched. My generation, we Gchat, a million tiny windows blinking orange with hopes and dreams and YouTube links, with five-year plans and lunch plans. So as I began to search for a single phrase that could, preposterously, describe our entire cohort, post-crash, I did what I always do in moments of crisis. I Gchatted my 24-year-old sister Clare, who happens to be living back at home with our parents while she looks for a job:

(10:24 p.m.) CLARE: how about they just call us SAA
self-absorbed assholes
ME: booo
CLARE: we need a D
to make it really good
SAD—self-absorbed delusionals
(10:26) can i send you a cover letter right quick?
ME: sure
(10:28) CLARE:
our generation is:
(10:29) independent
fame and glory hungry
weirdly apathetic when it comes to things outside of the internet
(10:32) ME: delayed is not our fault
CLARE: ok, you know what i always think about when i think of our generation? i read the david brooks book, “the social animal” and while it was only mediocre, he had this one really great bit that really stuck with me—the Greek ideal of “thumos”, which is the lust not for money or success (in the conventional sense) but the lust for glory
we want glory through our ideas-we want to know we matter
(10:33) the cold truth is that not all of us are brilliant
we are not all big thinkers. Not everyone’s TED talks will change the world
some of us will just dissipate into the ether
(10:34) but it is the digital connectivity, that proximity to these people, that makes us think that perhaps we will succeed as well
(10:35) ok, i’m done
(10:36) no i’m not
here’s why the recession is so devastating to us
we grew up, all the way through college, with everything seeming so ripe and possible
(10:37) we had a PC education—people tried to hide from us as long as possible that not everyone is equal
we were told we all have a fair chance of making it
that’s just not so
and we’re starting to realize that
(10:39) are you even listening to me anymore?
(10:41) ME: hi sorry
(10:42) i was writing an email
i am filing your comments
in my file.
(10:43) i think
your cover letter is good!
CLARE: i thought it was ok
(10:47) but I am, to be honest, expecting a rejection.

I know this might read as very woe-is-us, but these are the facts: Nearly 14 percent of college graduates from the classes of 2006 through 2010 can’t find full-time work, and overall just 55.3 percent of people ages 16 to 29 have jobs. That’s the lowest percentage since World War II, as you might have heard an Occupy Wall Street protester point out. (Not coincidentally, one in five young adults now lives below the poverty line.) Almost a quarter more people ages 25 to 34—in other words, people who should be a few years into their independent lives—are living with their parents than at the beginning of the recession.

Being young is supposed to mean you have the luxury of time. But in hard times, a few fallow years can become a lifetime drag on what you earn, sort of the opposite of compound interest. Because the average person grabs 70 percent of their total pay bumps during their first ten years in the workforce, according to a paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, having stagnant or nonexistent ­wages during that period means you hit that springboard at a crawl. Economist Lisa Kahn explained to The Atlantic in 2010 that those who graduate into a recession are still earning an average of 10 percent less nearly two decades into their careers. In hard, paycheck-shrinking numbers, the salary lost over that stretch totals around $100,000. That works out to $490 or so less a month, money that could go, say, toward repaying student loans, which for the class of 2009 average $24,000. Those student loans (the responsible borrowing option!) have reportedly passed credit cards as the nation’s largest source of debt. This is not just a rotten moment to be young. It’s a putrid, stinking, several-months-old-stringy-goat-meat moment to be young.

Earlier generations have weathered recessions, of course; this stall we’re in has the look of something nastier. Social Security and Medicare are going to be diminished, at best. Hours worked are up even as hiring staggers along: Blood from a stone looks to be the normal order of things “going forward,” to borrow the business-speak. Economists are warning that even when the economy recuperates, full employment will be lower and growth will be slower—a sad little rhyme that adds up to something decidedly ­unpoetic. A majority of Americans say, for the first time ever, that this generation will not be better off than its parents.

The young persons in these slides reflect an extremely random sample of twentysomethings affected by the economy, skewed heavily toward college attendees and acquaintances of New York staffers. All slogans are their own words, though we provided the tape.

And so we find ourselves living among the scattered ashes and spilled red wine and broken glass from a party we watched in our pajamas, peering down the stairs at the grown-ups. This is not a morning after we are prepared for, to judge by the composite sketch sociologists have drawn of us. (Generation-naming is an inexact science, but generally we’re talking here about the first half of the Millennials, the terrible New Agey label we were saddled with in the eighties.) Clare has us pegged pretty well: We are self-centered and convinced of our specialness and unaccustomed to being denied. “I am sad, jaded, disillusioned, frustrated, and worried,” said one girl I talked to who feels “stuck” in a finance job she took as a stepping-stone to more-fulfilling work she now cannot find. Ours isn’t a generation that will give you just one adjective to describe our hurt.

It might be hard, in fact, to create a generation more metaphysically ill-equipped to adjust to this new tough-shit world. Yet some of us, somehow, are dealing pretty well.

Our generation is the product of two long-term social experiments conducted by our parents. The first sought to create little hyperachievers encouraged to explore our interests and talents, so long as that could be spun for maximum effect on a college application. (I would like to take this forum to at last admit that my co-secretaryship of the math club had nothing to do with any passion for numbers and much to do with the extra-credit points.) In the second experiment, which was a reaction to their own distant moms and dads, our parents tried to see how much self-confidence they could pack into us, like so many overstuffed microfiber love seats, and accordingly we were awarded clip-art Certificates of Participation just for showing up.

The finite supply of actual brass rings meant that the first experiment would never pan out, but the second was a runaway success. Self-esteem among young people in America has been rising since the seventies, but it’s now so dramatically high that social scientists are considering whether they need to find a different measurement system—we’ve broken the scale. Since we are not in fact all perfect, this means that the endless praise we got growing up, win or lose, must have really sunk in. (Meanwhile, it’s this characteristic that our parents’ generation—which instilled it in us!—so delights in interpreting as “entitled.”)

I’ve got a working theory about what’s happening as our self-esteem surpluses collide with a contracting world. A big chunk of our generation, the part David Brooks a decade ago collectively labeled the Organization Kid, more or less happily embraced very hard work within the system. (Brooks was focused on elite students, but I think the term applies equally well to your typical first- and second-honor-roll strivers.) If you were an Organization Kid and have prospered despite the economy, landing one of those jobs that come with an embroidered gym bag, you’re obviously fine. The big change is that when you describe yourself as lucky—a word that comes up a lot with friends I know like this—you may actually mean it more than you would have before. (Before, it would have just been codespeak for “privileged.”) If, though, you set track records and made summa cum laude—if you earned praise not just for effort but real achievements—only to land back in the same bedroom where you drilled for the SATs, then you are unmoored. Your less-decorated peers, feeling the love regardless of results, came to believe they’ll always be appreciated. Whereas you have had your worldview kicked in.

You become a little like my friend Lael Goodman. “The worst thing is that I’ve always gotten self-worth from performance, especially good grades. But now that I can’t get a job, I feel worthless,” she says. Lael, who is 27, was the valedictorian of her high school and did very well in college too. Unable to find a position that paid a decent wage using her En­glish degree, she got a master’s at the University of Michigan in environmental studies. She does technically have a job, for now, filling in for a woman on maternity leave at a D.C. nonprofit, but it’s not one that prevents all her go-getting from seeming for naught. Lael feels like she’s stranded on the wrong rung. “All the articles in the newspaper say that investing in an IRA now means I’ll have hundreds of thousands of extra dollars down the road, so I should just scrimp and save,” she says. “But I can’t scrimp and save because I’m doing that just to afford housing and groceries. So I’m screwed now, unable to enjoy young adulthood in the way that I feel I was promised, and screwed for the future.”

Then there is my friend Sam (not his real name, because he felt that if I used his real name, he’d truly be unemployable). In high school, Sam was the sports captain who set all the curves in calculus. I used to call him up the night before physics tests to figure out what I should know. Sam went to the best college he got into, for which he took out $50,000 in loans. He signed up for some abstract-math courses, was cowed by classmates who worked theorems for kicks, and majored in poetry writing rather than fall short in the subject he’d built so much of his identity on. After graduating, he took a job as a woodworker’s apprentice, not the expected outcome for a grade-grubbing gunner, but also not all that unusual back in the days before every decision about which major to sign up for or job to take started to feel make-or-break. One thing about being the boomers’ heirs growing up in boom times was that it used to be okay to take a life-enriching sabbatical. There was no reason to think you wouldn’t eventually be able to get back on track.

Sam found out that woodworking turned out to be mostly vacuuming up wood chips, and so after a few months, he moved on to a series of other gigs, none of them exactly a career. When he finally got sick of bouncing around in his broken-down $200 car and living with his parents—who kept pressuring him to revisit his math-and-science aptitude—he got himself a $25,000 bank loan, which he used to cover expenses while enrolled in continuing-ed classes in engineering at one of the U.C. schools. He ran out of money pretty quickly. He then found a job working in urban education, but was laid off after a year and a half. “That was the point in my life where I was like, I need to get a career, I need to make that move,” he told me over the phone, in the mellowed-out East Bay patois that had crept into his voice since I last spoke with him. These days, he’s going to networking events and desperately applying for jobs in the tech world, hopeful that landing something very entry-level will put him back on a navigable route to success. He’s had creditors calling him at all hours. He is rather earnestly worried that he might end up on the street. His brothers are managing to stand on their own feet, and he can’t bear to move back home.

“I have a lot of regret about going to college,” Sam, the person in my high-school class who’d been most obsessed with getting into a good college, now says. “If I could go back again, I think I’d try … not going to college”—our generation’s ultimate blasphemy.

Sam blames himself for his predicament, not the economy, mostly. But other people in similar straits are coming to see their personal hardships as the product of broad inequalities. How many young people will put themselves into that category is a big test for Occupy Wall Street. One of its advocates created a Tumblr, “We Are the 99 Percent,” to collect accounts of being screwed by the recession. The posts from twentysomethings take stories that sound something like Lael’s—“I worked hard (40 hours a week during most of my education), for what? Tell me what I need to do to get ahead, because I did everything right!”—and make them a call to arms.

The unions, we know, are heeding that call, but a broader youth movement has yet to materialize.* The Obama 2008 campaign was the high-water mark for twentysomething political involvement. The activism it entailed felt like work—not a turnoff for us. Dialing your way through spreadsheets of get-out-the-vote phone numbers is something you can add to a résumé; getting escorted off the Brooklyn Bridge in those plastic handcuffs is not. But we’re done with that kind of engagement, for now: While this is by some measures the most politically progressive generation ever, young people have never been more disillusioned, as a group, about their ability to bring about meaningful change through the electoral process.

*This article has been updated from its original version. Yaphet Murphy is 38 years old, not 28, the age he had given to the author and a fact-checker. Because that puts him outside the focus of the essay, a paragraph describing his struggle to find work has been removed.

Sam Graham-Felsen was the Obama campaign’s chief blogger last cycle and now lectures about youth activism all over the world. When we spoke during the early days of the protests, he wasn’t convinced Occupy Wall Street could make activism cool for kids again, a factor he views as a key difference between the U.S. and ­places like Egypt. “Even just the physical style, the types of chants, the stuff that they’re eating, the granola—it’s just so derivative of the sixties,” he said. “It’s like, ‘Guys, let’s do something that’s more our generation.’ ”

What’s not clear is exactly what that might look like. It’s not that this is a generation that doesn’t want to improve the world—been to a college activity fair lately?—but ours is a fractured involvement. The Cold War sort of settled which was the superior economic and political system, leaving youthful calls for revolution to be shouted in the context of gay rights and women’s rights and pro-Palestinian-hummus-in-the-campus-cafeteria demonstrations, which are really about improvements to the status quo, not a wholesale overthrow. In the sixties, that generation’s protesters wanted a blank slate, economic and political chaos out of which they could build something new. We’ve got that chaos, and all we want is a way to get back to the structured prosperity that preceded their marching. It’s hard to build a potent counterculture when some of the people it’s meant to appeal to are just hoping for the chance to put on a tie and report to their cubes.

“Maybe I don’t have to make a splash. Maybe I’ll be okay with just keeping afloat.”

If you look at the people on the left who have painted the darkest picture of what the economic downturn means, they’re a generation ahead: Matt Taibbi, for one, or Ken Layne, the publisher of Wonkette, whose ironized blog prose mixes strangely with his incredibly bleak reading of the economy and culture. (Layne told me, in an e-mail of ambiguous sincerity, that the main advice he would give a recent graduate was to own only what would fit in a backpack and keep a current passport always on hand.) They are unabashedly, feverishly upset. Their words practically sweat clammily. Our generation tends to prefer our dystopian news delivered with the impish smile of a Jon Stewart. (I turn the channel when it’s time for scowling, ranting Lewis Black.) Reared to sponge up positive reinforcement that requires only a positive attitude as a buy-in, we are just not that into anger.

I spent the summer listening to Helplessness Blues, an album by Fleet Foxes. It is sweet and comforting and hated by a certain kind of music snob, and it was unexpectedly popular. The band, fronted by a 25-year-old, owes much to the sounds of groups like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, but if such a thing is possible, Fleet Foxes makes those older acts sound hard-edged. The folk music of the sixties was protest music, but there is nothing remotely political about this. Instead, the preoccupations are inward-turning, the title track serving as a gentle generational anthem: “I was raised up believing / I was somehow unique / Like a snowflake, distinct among snowflakes / Unique in each way you can see,” it begins. “But, now, after some thinking, I’d say I’d rather be / A functioning cog in some great machinery / Serving something beyond me.” It’s not just the bearded dudes in flannel; some of our angry-sounding musicians, it turns out, are just seeking affirmation. On the song “Radicals,” rapper Tyler, the Creator snarls, “I’m not saying just to go out and do some stupid shit, commit crimes. What I’m trying to tell you is, do what the fuck you want, stand for what the fuck you believe in and don’t let nobody tell you you can’t do what the fuck you want.” Then the kicker: “I’m a fucking unicorn, and fuck anybody who say I’m not.” Today’s fucking unicorn is yesterday’s “Fuck tha Police.”

Television writers, a lot of them young themselves, are starting to offer their own expressions of our generation’s shifting sensibility. Pre-crash, we had the creamy male fairy tale of Entourage. Now HBO serves up How to Make It in America, a slightly grittier prequel to the good life that implies simply being marginally in the mix of a certain kind of scene—it’s no longer necessary to have ascended to the top—constitutes “making it” today. And CBS is enjoying a hit with 2 Broke Girls, set in a diner in Williamsburg and co-created by Michael Patrick King, whose Sex and the City prerecession fantasia ran on a constant loop in college girls’ dorm rooms in the mid-aughts as we put on our heels and going-out tops and drank vodka from Solo cups. The show is neither very good nor very accurate in its portrayal of what it’s really like to be a broke girl living in Williamsburg (hi!), but it does get one big thing right. It centers on the sardonic heroine Max, played by Kat Dennings, who beneath her surface armor is hamstrung by faltering self-confidence after, we are meant to imagine, being unable to get anything better than her waitressing gig. Her co-worker foil, Caroline, the spoiled, newly destitute daughter of a Madoff-esque figure, refuses to wallow despite her fall from privilege, and dreams up a cupcakery as a way to split the difference between the waitressing grind and the life she had coming her way. Obviously, a vegan falafel truck would be a much more 2011-appropriate start-up scheme, but never mind: Their attempts to deal with adult disappointment, to find a new path, now make for a plot with a lot of mileage in it.

In the early days of the recession, I was secretly a little jealous of friends who’d lost their jobs. When you’re young enough, from the outside a layoff can look confusingly like liberation. It seemed like an opportunity to do more of the semi-sanctioned and semi-scripted fucking around that goes with this decade of life. But it stops feeling like a fun, sexy choice when it’s not, in fact, a choice, and what income you’re fortunate to have is highly nondisposable. It’s hard to fully enjoy avoiding maturity if you’re worried that it’s more like maturity is escaping you.

Amid all the jumping around between jobs and among beds, the twenties are, for a lot of people, the time to figure out whom you want to settle down with. The economy has pushed back that rite of passage: The median age of first marriages has crept up by about a year since 2006—a statistically huge increase—and the overall marriage rate is at an all-time low. The number of women between 20 and 34 rose by about a million between 2008 and 2010, but the number of children born to the group dropped by 200,000. Thirty-nine percent of us in a 2010 National Journal poll were getting financial help from relatives, including a full quarter of those with full-time jobs. Those statistics partly stem from actual hardship. But they also seem to reflect inflated expectations of the lifestyle you need to have attained before you’re ready to move on to your next stage.

And yet: Some of us are learning to make the trade-offs. For 27-year-old Lydia Greaves and her husband, the choice was the house they dreamed of buying in his native Seattle or the family they dreamed of simultaneously starting, but not both. He, a lawyer, couldn’t find work for nearly a year after getting his J.D., and she, an environmental chemist, was laid off for a while in 2010. They’ve decided to put off saving for the down payment and try for the kid first. “If we wait until we feel like we’re financially ready, I’d be 40,” she says. “It was like, ‘Okay! In that case …’ ”

It’s not exactly a happy story, but it can be a hopeful one. And the early-onset pragmatism is trickling down. One of the youngest young people I spoke with was Kristine Nwosu. The child of Nigerian immigrants, she’s 19 years old and a sophomore at Temple University, putting her among the first members of our generation to enter college knowing full well the scary merry-go-round they’ll be climbing aboard when they’re done. Her mother is a nurse and her father a chef who, even before he started cancer treatments and underwent a liver transplant this summer, had struggled financially, losing both a restaurant and a catering business. Kristine used to want to cook for a living, too. But she’s leaning toward studying to be a pharmacist, a field for which hiring prospects remain bright. “I have a slight interest in it,” she says. That now feels like enough.

Recently it has become important to me to buy lamps for my very small apartment. I have been in it more than a year, and it’s starting to feel claustrophobically tiny. I can’t make it any bigger, but I can make it brighter, and so I have spent hours browsing the web for shades with the right transparency, the ideal height. I move lamps around daily, trying to find the combination that will make cramped feel cozy, that will cast a golden glow if I stick them in the right corners.

It occurs to me that what I am trying to do with lamps—to make the best of limited circumstances, to brighten what feels shabby—is the domestic side of what I’ve already done with my professional self. I’m one of those young people always calling themselves lucky: I’ve been employed throughout the downturn, in the industry that I wanted to work in. But at my old job, there were several rounds of layoffs. The first robbed me of my cubicle mate, the last (which came after I’d left) hit veteran colleagues at the top of their games. Watching that, I decided to never count on career stability and have tried to be less defined by my work. Some of my friends have recalibrated as well. “I look at the people in positions of authority in my office and see the stress and pressure they are under,” says one. She has lowered the bar beyond which satisfaction supposedly waits. “It makes me think, Well, maybe I don’t have to be in charge. Maybe I’ll be okay with just keeping afloat rather than making a splash.”

It’s part of the American way to get a lot of self-worth from your job. Meanwhile, one of the reasons there aren’t enough of those jobs out there is that America no longer makes enough stuff. Young people feel that void, intrinsically. Making stuff is what got us smiles from our parents and top billing in refrigerator art galleries. And since we are, as a generation, more addicted to positive reinforcement than any before us, and because we have learned firsthand the futility of finding that affirmation through our employers, we have returned to our stuff-making ways, via pursuits easily mocked: the modern-day pickling, the obsessive Etsying, the flower-arranging classes, the knitting resurgence, the Kickstarter funds for art projects of no potential commercial value. The millions upon millions who upload footage of themselves singing or dancing or talking about the news to YouTube. Of course, funny videos and adorable hand-sewn ikat pillows aren’t the only kind of stuff that people are making as a way of coping with harsh economic realities—meth, for instance, comes to mind. But putting aside those darker enterprises, this is a golden age for creativity and knowledge for their own sakes. Our pastimes have become our expressions of mastery, a substitute for the all-consuming career.

Even status updates and photo albums on Facebook are part of this. Jonathan Franzen wrote a commencement speech–cum–jeremiad last spring against our generation for, as he sees it, substituting Facebook “liking” for real-life passion for something. But the thumbs-up isn’t a substitution for anything. It is just a tiny kindness, a sweet pat on the back, and the profligacy with which we give them out is just a function of a generation’s giving out compliments in the volume in which we received them growing up. Thumbs down, Franzen, for missing the point.

On the day before I turned 27, I went to meet my friend Desi for a beer and a burger. He is a thoughtful, very smart 24-year-old college dropout, smallish and dark-haired with a bushy Brooklyn beard. He rides a motorcycle and seems to be friends with half the staff of places like Four & Twenty Blackbirds, where his roommate works as a baker. He took time off from Georgetown on a lark to work on an offshore oil platform and get some life experience (“stories rather than ideas,” he said—admitting in the next breath that it may have had something to do with the number of times he’d read On the Road) and wound up never returning to school. When he dated my roommate a couple of years ago, he was paying the bills with a gig delivering cloth diapers, and she made it sound like he was having trouble finding other work. Desi is the guy you would have once said had thrown away his future but today seems like maybe he’s got something figured out.

The morning before we met, Desi’s motorcycle had broken down. If his truck goes next, he won’t have the money to fix it. “A little bit of bad luck, and things can unravel pretty quickly,” he said. But Desi wanted to sell me on the merits of constrained circumstances, not tick off tales of woe. He is still delivering diapers, but he’s now got another job as a woodworker-slash-lacquerer. He finds a satisfaction in the craft that eluded Sam, my high school’s former can’t-miss kid, during his woodworking interregnum. Desi does a great deal of yoga. He proselytizes about the book Shop Class As Soulcraft. “Getting better at enjoying life” is something he describes very seriously as a goal. This is not something that requires a big salary, and he doesn’t think his mind-set will change much with age. He has only so much sympathy for the complaints of his girlfriend, a 2011 college graduate working retail who is devastated that she’s been unable to find a job that requires a degree.

Remember how most Americans think this generation will be worse off than the one that preceded it? This generation doesn’t agree. A plurality of young people still think they’ll do better than their parents. Our optimism is surprisingly durable. A large-scale Pew study published in 2010 showed that about 90 percent of us either say that we currently have enough money or will eventually meet our long-term financial goals—we’re more hopeful on that front, in fact, than we were before the recession.

Clark University’s Jeffrey Arnett, who studies what he calls the life phase of “emerging adulthood,” points out that people who respond with optimism to questions like that don’t necessarily see “better off” as simply a question of wealth. For nonwhite Americans, certainly, there’s less discrimination than their parents faced, and that may affect responses. But there’s evidence to suggest other members of our cohort believe they’ll live a more fulfilled life, have better relationships, even if they don’t live in larger houses or drive fancier cars than their parents. Jean Twenge, author of Generation Me, says the most prominent shift she has seen so far among young people in this economy is an apparent decrease in materialism. We are less interested in stuff, but still very interested in self.

Desi’s onboard with less stuff. “You don’t need to have money to buy a huge record collection; you have Grooveshark. You don’t need that shit. Life is just getting easier.” And it definitely is, in terms of access to entertainment. Facebook and video games and Twitter and Internet memes and Google Books and smartphones and free apps have made life on a small budget a lot more diverting. Rob Weitzer, a 24-year-old ­Bushwick dweller who grew up in Connecticut and has been spottily employed since graduating from the New School, puts it this way: “My parents are well off financially, but I’m better off culturally.”

Desi’s father happens to be an engineer who worked for the company that made the StairMaster, that very boomer self-improvement device. His grandfather did important work on a generationally defining product of his own. Desi’s grandfather was John Rawls, the philosopher credited with expanding the intellectual framework for the modern social safety net. Desi also cares about safety nets, but smaller ones. “Feeling like you can take care of yourself and your friends … that’s the answer,” he told me when we were talking about Occupy Wall Street, and whether it’s worth it to be involved. “You know, you find a community where you don’t feel that powerlessness.” I bring up his grandfather’s legacy. He redirects the conversation. “Definitely, if you don’t do something, it’s not going to happen. But if you do do something, it’s still probably not going to happen. Your time could be time that you spend enriching your own life.”

Twenge, the Generation Me author, turned me on to the existence of a concept called “locus of control.” Essentially, it’s a measure of whether you think your destiny is controlled by you or outside forces. For years, young people have increasingly placed their loci of control outside themselves, and this is true of my generation more than any yet. It seems unlikely that a global financial crisis that revealed just how deeply ingrained, intertwined, and intractable are the world’s problems is doing much to counteract that trend. Yet someone like Desi manages to place the locus of control firmly within himself, centered narrowly on his own life and the people he knows. Notwithstanding what that attitude portends for social justice (nothing good), maybe it’s the only way to feel like you are in charge of your own destiny, by focusing your lens ever tighter.

Another phrase I now can’t get out of my head is “managed decline.” It’s been batted around in the context of Europe; George Soros splashily said it about the U.S. dollar a few years ago; and Ken Layne, the Wonkette Cassandra, used it when we spoke. It also strikes me as a fairly good way of describing the process of getting older. That’s what we’re doing when we decide that we can be okay with having more unpredictable careers and more modest lifestyles, if that’s what’s in store: Even as we hold out hope that something will reverse the trajectory, we are managing our decline, we are making do.

Desi and I tried to picture the country in 50 years, as a kind of parlor game. “Oh! Mushroom cloud! It’s going to be a disaster!” he said. “It’s so overwhelming there’s nothing in particular to be worried about.” We both laughed, because it’s true.

Things I Should Have Posted: Part I

July 12, 2011

Important stuff that’s no longer news but still meaningful — Stuff I would have posted this past year and a half if I were in blog world.

Tahrir Square just after Mubarek announced he was stepping down. An image that encapsulates what it's all about.

Youth Is Not a Pre-Existing Condition

November 6, 2009

Friend and fellow NOI Bootcamper covers youth and the healthcare fight and uses my story on WireTap’s Blog, which covers ideas and action for a new generation:

Posted by Steve Romain at 9:31AM November 2, 2009

For most of my life, I have been uninsured.

My dad — who had covered me on his policies — would change jobs often, resulting in there being huge gaps between different insurance companies. More often than not, traditional doctor worries wouldn’t scare me: the question of whether I actually had insurance would.

My story isn’t anything original, though.

The barriers to entry for health insurance are so high that many youth simply go without. It’s not that we don’t want it: we’re perfectly aware we’re not invincible. We’re just priced out of the market. I suppose that’s why you never see any “Blue Cross means Bitchin’ Coverage!” ads, targeted at a younger demographic.

A recent study (PDF) by the AFL-CIO found that a whopping 31 percent of young workers are uninsured. Moreover, young blue-collar workers are uninsured 40 percent of the time. The key barrier to entry for health care? You guessed it — cost.

How about those lower priced options, like otherwise-unfortunately-named Catastrophic Coverage? Usually, they’re not so good.

“[Insurance companies] would quote you a ridiculously low price but when you read the fine print, the coverage was very little and the out of pocket expenses were ridiculous,” Erinlynn Scott says.

A self-employed dance teacher, Ms. Scott must purchase an unsubsidized policy. Due to medical issues and a pre-existing condition, she has been denied coverage by many insurers and is forced to pay dramatically high premiums for lackluster coverage.

Although Aetna denies many procedures, such as blood work, she knows there is no way around the high monthly fees and uncovered treatments and pays into her policy every month.

So what do we do when something goes really wrong, such as if we’re in an accident?

According to some EMTs, you could always just not go to the hospital. Erin Mazursky found that out the hard way.

After a car accident, the EMTs asked her if she wanted to be brought to the hospital, even though she was badly injured. “I was really confused as to why I wouldn’t go to the hospital, considering my condition,” Ms. Mazursky said, “and realized later on that the question was posed because they wanted to know if I had health care.”

If she didn’t have health care at the time of the accident, the ambulance trip to the hospital and ER visit would have cost her about $2,000.

Ms. Mazursky is currently freelancing and covered by COBRA, but fears for the day when COBRA coverage runs out. She would “rather go into debt than not have any coverage at all,” echoing the sentiments of many, contrary to the common perception of young people as daredevils and ‘invincibles.’

Her fears aren’t unfounded: young people find themselves having to walk the tightrope of living on lower incomes without the safety net of coverage all too often. Without reform, this vicious situation shows no signs of stopping.

Sooner or later, the tightrope will shake — then what do we do?


The Obama Generation, 1 Year Later

November 5, 2009

“Obama has been called a rock star, but this group’s experiences suggest that the campaign instilled a commitment to service, not a cult of personality.”

With nearly 6,000 staffers and tens of thousands of more volunteers, the Obama campaign didn’t just motivate people towards victory, they trained a generation of progressive leaders who will continue to imbue a culture of service and organizing.  This “progressive salesforce” can serve as an unbeatable force for the progressive movement — in both defining it and winning its battles — but we need increased engagement and means for these young people to translate the skills they learned on the campaign into productive, contributive careers.

The Obama Generation, Revisited:
The 2008 election galvanized young voters and organizers. One year
later, where are they?


Watch a video about the Obama youthquake, one year later, here.

Not everyone at President Obama’s healthcare rally at the University of Maryland on September 17 was as “fired up and ready to go” as he was. There were frat boys clowning around, students excited to see a president–any president–young men in matching T-shirts who were there solely because of their sheet metal workers union and one antiabortion activist with remarkable lungs. But it’s safe to say that on that drizzly day, the Comcast Center was packed with 12,000 mostly young people who supported the president and his healthcare plan. As the marching band played “Copacabana” not once, not twice, but three times, student volunteers made sure the spectators–some of whom had lined up at 5:30 am–stayed within the cordoned areas. Young women in Healthcare ’09 T-shirts craned to catch a glimpse of Obama, and after he finally emerged there was a cacophony of “I love you, Barack!”

On November 4, 2008, Barack Obama won 66 percent of voters under 30, increasing the Democratic share of the youth vote by 12 percent over 2004. Young people were among Obama’s earliest and most important supporters; people under 30, for example, represented Obama’s margin of victory in Iowa, the crucial first caucus. Rallies like this one, with thousands of young people putting their hands in the air for healthcare reform, are the most obvious indication of continuing youth enthusiasm for the president. Plenty in the crowd had volunteered for his campaign, including Eric Stehmer, 28, a University of Maryland graduate who has been unemployed for a year and has only catastrophic health coverage; Mouhamad Diabate, 21, a U of M student who canvassed for Obama and has several thousand dollars in medical bills that he’s trying to ignore; and Chrisi West, 30, an enthusiastic Virginia “supervolunteer” whose parents lost their home when she was a child after her father got sick, and who seemed to know all the student volunteers from their work together on the campaign.

West had never touched politics before Obama, and now she’s addicted, continuing to volunteer thirty-five hours a week for Organizing for America, the DNC group that grew out of the Obama campaign. The extraordinary impact of Obama’s election on young people is not limited to supporting his legislative priorities. It’s harder to measure than the audience at a rally, but the campaign is the reason, for example, a former professional cellist is now a union organizer and a former firefighter is an environmentalist. It galvanized a generation of first-time volunteers, and a year later many of them are still working for change they can believe in–which doesn’t necessarily mean they’re working for Obama himself.

In interviews with thirty young people around the country who worked on the Obama field campaign, almost all said that they continued their activism well after the endorphins of winning wore off. Obama has been called a rock star, but this group’s experiences suggest that the campaign instilled a commitment to service, not a cult of personality. Though many former campaigners are still fans and several now work for the Obama administration, most are less interested in Washington politics than they are in community organizing. As former staffer Marcus Ryan, 25, says, “Once you turn on that community organizing perspective, it’s hard to turn off.”

According to experts and campaign veterans, the Obama for America field operation hooked its workers on organizing in a way never seen before. As former New Mexico staffer Elizabeth Kistin, 28, puts it, “The candidate gets people in the door, but it’s the campaign that keeps them coming back.” The Obama for America catchphrase was “Respect, Empower, Include,” and the campaign offered young volunteers responsibility galore.

Still, not every worker had the same transformative experience. By all accounts this was the most diverse presidential field campaign ever, but it was largely white, middle-class college graduates who had the time and means to move from swing state to swing state as volunteers. Many of them earned staff positions as a result. But despite its weaknesses, the campaign seems to have achieved the near impossible: making crunchy old community organizing sexy. The question is: what will these freshly minted young organizers do with their new skills?

After the election, about half of the thirty interviewees are in school or returned to their old jobs, but the lives of the other half completely changed. Four work for the administration, five started their own Washington nonprofit, two are full-time organizers, two are organizers in training and one joined Teach for America. Three who were at different stages of becoming lawyers now have other plans. The interviewees joined the campaign for many reasons: because they identified with Obama, because they were sick of complaining, because they were antiwar, because they wanted healthcare reform, because they felt guilty for not helping John Kerry, because they loved Michelle.

Though most of them uprooted themselves and dedicated at least a month to the campaign, some integrated their activism into their everyday lives. Lana Wilson, 26, of New York, held a series of “Obamaerobics” fundraisers and sold Barack Your Body T-shirts to raise money for the campaign. Anthony Williams, 22, of Cincinnati, hired a white limousine to take people to the polls during a voter registration gig. Sgt. Mike Buchholz, 23, started a Soldiers for Obama Facebook group while he was in training at Fort Gordon, Georgia.

Longtime political observers are in awe of what Obama accomplished. “I spent most of my adult life where you say, Young people don’t vote,” says Democratic strategist Paul Maslin. “Now we have to throw aside those assumptions. That’s a terrific thing. Obama took what we did with [Howard] Dean to new heights. People clicked in and clicked on. That activism can’t be switched off easily.”

Professor Peter Dreier of Occidental College, who trained workers during the campaign and teaches community organizing, says that the key change from previous presidential elections is the difference between marketing a product and activating a community. “This campaign was about building relationships among people that last beyond election day,” he says. Partly because of the never-ending primary battle, Obama for America had offices in rural areas that had previously been ignored by candidates. In New Mexico, for example, the Obama campaign had thirty-nine offices in advance of the general election, compared with Kerry’s sixteen in 2004. But beyond the many warm bodies, there was the strategy that empowered them.

While the Edwards and Clinton campaigns skipped young people in favor of reliable older voters, former youth director Hans Riemer poured resources into cultivating the youth of Iowa. His team developed the Barack Stars program, which targeted 17-year-olds who would be eligible to participate in the caucuses. “Our whole student program was run by volunteers,” says Riemer, who previously worked for Rock the Vote. “Barack represents a thousand different answers to what young people were looking for,” he says. “Who he is, his background, the issues he’s worked on, his vision, his style.” Riemer and other strategists developed a campaign climate that kept volunteers coming back. Field organizers around the country built comfy offices that became rec centers for young people.

To veteran activists used to running campaigns on a shoestring, Obama for America’s volunteer-driven strategy wasn’t rocket science, but it was breaking news to the establishment. Volunteers on most large-scale campaigns can expect to phone-bank or door-knock and not much else. But on the Obama campaign, they could be promoted to several key roles: team leader, campus captain, data coordinator, phone-bank captain or house party captain. The local field organizer would meet with a prospective volunteer one-on-one; this initial conversation usually involved storytelling, during which the staffer explained what brought him to the campaign and then asked the volunteer for her story. From there, he would ask her to commit to something: hosting a house party or recruiting other volunteers, for example.

“What was so remarkable about the Obama field campaign is that it took a leap of faith in ordinary people,” says Zack Exley, the former organizing director for and the Kerry campaign’s online communications director. “For thousands and thousands of young people, it was the first big responsibility they took on.” Nicole Derse, 31, the training director of Organizing for America, agrees. “Our success as a campaign depended on young people’s leadership,” she says. “At Penn State, we told our volunteers, ‘If you don’t organize your dorms, they’re not going to get organized. If you don’t get them registered to vote, they probably won’t vote.’ Young people aren’t expected to do that.”

While many staffers and volunteers speak of the excitement in the campaign offices, the work wasn’t always fun. Zerlina Maxwell, 28, who took a year off from law school at Rutgers to work as a field organizer in Virginia, experienced the highs and lows. The high was Karl, a dedicated 89-year-old volunteer who arrived early for every Saturday-morning canvass. The low happened when she knocked on a door on a quiet street in Yorktown. “This woman said, Nigger, get off of my porch and take your shit with you!” says Maxwell. “She threw the literature back at me and slammed the door.”

Maxwell wasn’t the only young worker to experience racial tensions while working on the campaign for the first black president. Speaking off the record, many African-American staffers and volunteers noted that the static wasn’t just with belligerent voters. Some mention a lack of respect on the part of young white field organizers for fellow organizers or local volunteers, some of whom had much more experience. In some states, white field organizers were sent into any and all communities, but black organizers worked only in African-American areas.

Others were frustrated by the weaknesses of the campaign’s mostly young, inexperienced staff. Obamaerobics instructor Lana Wilson volunteered in Toledo, Ohio, for six weeks before the election and wasn’t entirely sold. “They had limitless energy and enthusiasm,” she says. “But they had no office experience and no experience delegating tasks or making people feel appreciated. I thought, There’ll be an arrogant generation of people saying, ‘I worked on the Obama campaign.'”

Wilson needn’t worry too much about their egos. Though some campaign staffers now work for the administration or nonprofits, it turns out that in this economy a year as a field organizer isn’t the résumé boost some may have hoped for. Young organizers emerged from victory into a full-blown recession, with high unemployment, huge cuts in the nonprofit sector and a 21 percent decrease in internships nationwide. Much of the scaffolding for civic engagement and the entry-level positions that come with it had shrunk or disappeared.

Plenty of former staffers went back to previous gigs or enrolled in grad school, but some faced bleaker prospects. According to Demond Drummer, 26, a field organizer during the primaries in South Carolina, one of his most dedicated volunteers was a high school student who got to chair a meeting with Obama’s sister. That young man had a history of discipline problems in school, and he is now behind bars (Drummer’s not sure why); he will be out this month. “He’s a leader, but he had nothing else to do after the election,” says Drummer. In Kansas City, Missouri, where he lives, Exley sees former superstar field organizers working at coffee shops.

Exley, whose New Organizing Institute offered fellowships to several former field organizers, including Drummer, believes that Obama campaign veterans represent an extraordinary talent pool for the progressive movement. “On the right, they always suck up talent after elections to keep them warm and employed with healthcare until the next campaign,” he says. “I think [progressive] groups didn’t understand that the experience of being an Obama field organizer was something special and enriching, because on other campaigns people didn’t really get much out of it. In most places, the Kerry field campaign didn’t give young staff or volunteers a disciplined, accountable experience. The Obama field campaign was in most places an incredible work experience for young people.”

Absent any systematic attempts to recruit them, hundreds of Obama campaign vets flocked to Washington in hopes of finding work in the administration or the many nonprofits headquartered there. Many remained unemployed as the administration’s hiring process dragged on: after working for months with no days off, they found themselves on an extended unpaid vacation in an expensive city, draining their savings accounts.

Some who survived the long wait were rewarded with administration jobs. Hallie Montoya Tansey, 29, known for her work as field director for the League of Young Voters, joined the Obama campaign early and was a deputy field director in Wisconsin for the general election. She’s now a confidential assistant to the chief of staff of the education secretary.

At The Nation’s request, Montoya Tansey compiled a list of 101 young staffers and dedicated volunteers she’d met while on the Obama field campaign. Their current occupations offer some insight into where field campaign grads have gone since the election. Of the 101 she profiled, about 70 had never worked on a political campaign before. Since the campaign, sixty-three have found jobs within the administration and its many departments. A former drug and alcohol counselor works for the Office of Drug Control Policy; a former producer on MTV’s The Hills was hired as a data manager at the DNC. Another nine have taken jobs on new campaigns or with elected officials. Others are back in school, unemployed, working for nonprofits or waiting tables. (Montoya Tansey’s sample is consistent with reports from other former field organizers.)

Since the election, two of the thirty campaigners I spoke with have worked on Organizing for America’s campaign for healthcare, and another, Nicole Derse, has a role in running it. Marianne von Nordeck, 29, is a former concert cellist who’d never participated in politics before. She was mentored by Derse during the primaries in Massachusetts and New Hampshire–“Nicole totally changed my life,” says von Nordeck–and went on to work as the field director of a State Senate campaign in the general election. She now works as a healthcare organizer for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), a union with 1.6 million members nationwide. Von Nordeck went a year without asthma inhaler refills because she had no health insurance, so the issue resonated with her.

“I couldn’t go back to what I did before,” she says. “We didn’t all drop what we were doing and change our lives just because we liked Obama. We wanted to move the country forward.” Of the nineteen campaign coordinators AFSCME hired last spring to work on healthcare reform, fifteen are Obama campaign veterans.

Not all of the former field campaign workers have von Nordeck’s zest for policy change, but even if they’re not active community organizers, several hope to return to organizing as soon as they can get jobs in the field. Many interviewees emphasized that the campaign gave them a new sense of community.

That’s true for Mike Jones, 20, a sophomore at New York University. Jones was one of the young superstars of the primary season; he fundraised in order to volunteer for the campaign (“Working for free is very expensive,” he says) and was eventually hired as a field organizer. He worked in Nevada, Texas and his home state, North Carolina–all while he still had braces on his teeth. “If I had emerged from the campaign with only a reinforced political ideology I would have been missing the point,” says Jones. “Before, I didn’t think of community as an instrument for achieving.” Over the years, Jones’s sense of community has been shaky. Because of his parents’ financial difficulties, he spent high school in a Christian group home called Crossnore, which supported him financially during the campaign as well as in college.

Jones received an undergraduate research grant from NYU that he’s now using to invest in the community he left behind. He interviews young residents of group homes in California, New Jersey and North Carolina about how they construct their personal histories despite their transient lives. It’s a skill he developed on the campaign during those crucial one-on-one meetings with volunteers. “It was the experience of sharing a personal narrative with a complete stranger that laid the foundation for the organizing,” he says.

It’s clear that the Obama campaign has had a striking impact on the paths of young people who had never been involved in politics before. Until November 2007, Marcus Ryan was a firefighter with the Tatanka Hotshots in South Dakota. When he heard Obama’s speech during the New Hampshire primary, he says, “The hairs raised on the back of my neck. I realized something’s happening in America, and you either answer that call or you don’t.” The 25-year-old joined the Obama campaign as a volunteer in Texas. By the time of the general election, he was on staff as the regional field director in Miami. On November 4, after the election had been called for Obama, Ryan strategized with fellow campaign workers over rum and Cokes about how to use green jobs to fight poverty. Soon after, he and several other young Obama veterans came up with the DC Project, which aims to generate demand for green jobs [see “DC’s New Green Shoots,” page 17]. “It’s more exciting now, because the campaign was a promise of what was possible,” he says. “And now we’re trying to make sure that promise is granted.”

Caroline Gibbons, 22, had never voted before; she was eligible in 2004 but didn’t change her registration from Queens, where she grew up, to the Bronx, where she was studying at Fordham University. “I’m very liberal and outspoken, but I thought of elections as something for the wealthy and well connected,” she says. That changed her senior year. She’d been a fan of Obama’s since his 2004 DNC speech, and starting in the fall of 2007 she registered voters on street corners. After graduating, she forfeited her law school deposit and accepted a Teach for America position instead. “I thought I’d be a hypocrite if I took the ‘When in doubt, be a lawyer,’ route,” she says. In August 2008 Gibbons started as a second grade teacher in Coahoma County, a poor area in the Mississippi Delta. She changed her registration and drove people to the polls on November 4; the county went 73 percent for Obama. “My students think he’s the best president we’ve ever had,” she says. “Teaching is one way the momentum I felt from the campaign is actually carried out, day to day. These kids can keep it going.”

Some of the first-time volunteers are like Chrisi West: still behind Obama 100 percent–she phone-banks and campaigns for healthcare with Organizing for America at the same farmers’ markets she visited before the election, on top of her full-time job at a nonprofit. But others have been disappointed by the president on issues like civil liberties, the Iraq War, the presence of usual suspect lobbyists or because of the way the White House handled the Van Jones case. For Arizonan Jake Harvey, 20, who dedicated much of his freshman and sophomore years at Northern Arizona University to the field campaign, it’s gay rights.

Almost a year after the election, Harvey, who was diagnosed in April with leukemia, has mixed feelings about Obama’s presidency. “I still have a box of campaign gear and newspaper clippings from 2007 that I will one day share with my children, grandchildren and the students I teach,” he says. “But now that he’s been in office for nine months, I’ve become a little more cynical. As a gay person, I am holding him to the fire to deliver.”

Before the election, Harvey wasn’t in the legislative loop. He is now, and as soon as he’s recovered from chemo, he plans to get more involved in gay rights organizations focusing on issues like “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Like everyone interviewed for this article, Harvey had his own reasons for devoting a year to Obama. But though the interviewees’ priorities are different, the skills they developed are similar, as is the sense that they can organize communities to win.

This is the “Yes We Can” generation. Working on the Obama field campaign has given them an unrestrained, sometimes naïve optimism, and if Obama indoctrinated them with anything, it’s a belief in the power of civic engagement. Some plan to use the tools they learned to hold the man they elected accountable. More want to advance their own issues on their own terms. But none of them want to be Associate No. 27 at a corporate law firm. They’re just hoping somebody notices and offers them a job.

About Elizabeth Méndez Berry

Elizabeth Méndez Berry, an award-winning journalist, has written about culture and politics for publications including the Washington Post, the Village Voice and Vibe. more…

Lack of Youth Vote is the Reason for 2009 Election Losses

November 5, 2009

Great piece by Heather Horn on The Atlantic Wire yesterday on the lack of the youth vote in Tuesday’s elections, where Democrats lost the incumbency of their gubernatorial races in both New Jersey and Virginia as well as the tragic repeal of gay marriage in Maine, where they voted Yes on No. 1.

More on this later, but here is an excerpt and link to the article:

What Happened to the Youth Vote?

By Heather Horn on November 04, 2009 8:31am

Young people helped swing the vote in 2008 with a big turnout, and
they helped swing the vote in 2009 as well–by staying home. With
Republicans winning big in New Jersey and Virginia, Politico’s Ben
Smith succinctly sums up what a lot are saying, looking at exit poll
data: “The key point is that this wasn’t your president’s electorate.”

Undocumented Youth, Finding their Voice

November 5, 2009

Dream Activist, the undocumented students action and resource network, is a network of undocumented and documented immigrant youth who are leading the effort around the DREAM Act, demanding a right to affordably go to college and receive an education.

Visit to learn more about their incredible efforts that is keeping immigration at the top of hot button issues in this country.

Guinea’s Youth Stage 5-Day Hunger Strike

November 5, 2009

From Voice of America:

By Peter Clottey
28 October 2009

Various youth organizations in Guinea are scheduled to go on a five-day nationwide hunger strike beginning Wednesday to push the country’s military leaders to resolve the political crisis.

Guinean police arrest a protester on in front of the biggest stadium in the capital Conakry during a protest banned by Guinea's ruling junta, 28 Sep 2009
Guinean police arrest a protester on in front of the biggest stadium in the capital Conakry during a protest banned by Guinea’s ruling junta, 28 Sep 2009

The youth say they want the military junta and the opposition to come up with a compromise about the way forward for the nation.

They expressed concern about the country’s worsening political situation which the youth said led to the recent massacre of unarmed protesters.

Attorney Thierno Balde, one of the leading organizers of the hunger strike said that there would be another round of hunger strike if the country’s leaders fail to come up with a compromising solution to the crisis.

“There are several youth from the Youth Federation of the Association of Guinea who are organizing a hunger strike. The objective of the hunger strike is to let all political leaders in Guinea (know) that we are concerned about the situation and we will like to have peace and stability in Guinea,” Balde said.

He said all leaders should have an input in finding a solution to the crisis.

“In order to get peace, we have to have an agreement which involves all the parties and which satisfies all the parties involved,” he said.

Balde called for an end to violence.

“We have to end violence and we have to have justice for all the victims,” Balde said.

He said the ongoing crisis needs a political solution.

Guinea's military leader Capt. Moussa Dadis Camara (l) walks with Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore as he arrives at Conakry airport, 5 Oct 2009
Guinea’s military leader Capt. Moussa Dadis Camara (l) walks with Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore as he arrives at Conakry airport, 5 Oct 2009

“We are asking all people from Guinea that the situation is political not an ethnic problem and no one should really make it an ethnic (problem). It’s a political situation (and) we have to find a political solution,” he said.

Balde said the youth will petition the military junta as well as the opposition.

“Yes we have declared from which we made, and the declaration concerns not only the military but also the opposition. We are asking them to find an agreement on the basis of the recommendation, which we stated in our declaration,” Balde said.

He said the youth is also asking for a unity government.

The bodies of people killed during a rally are seen at the capital's main mosque in Conakry, Guinea (File)
The bodies of people killed during a rally are seen at the capital’s main mosque in Conakry, Guinea

“The main recommendation which we are asking is to set up a transitional entity which satisfy all the parties and which will be lead by a neutral personality,” he said.

Balde said the youth will continue with the hunger strike until a solution to the crisis is found.

“If we don’t get satisfaction we are going to organize this hunger strike not only here in Conakry, but all around the main cities in the country,” Balde said.

Meanwhile, union workers are also expected to begin a sit down strike Wednesday to press home their demand for a unity government to replace the military junta.