Laura Olsen’s L.A.Times article “Keeping Obama’s young army engaged” opens up an important dialogue about how the millions of young people who energized Obama’s campaign can help advance the President-elect’s agenda. Thus far, Olsen reports,
The Obama transition team already has moved to capitalize on this enormous youth base: Web-casting the president-elect’s weekly addresses on YouTube; communicating its transition steps on a post-election website, Change.gov; and reaching out by e-mail to many of the campaign’s 3 million donors amassed during a nearly two-year campaign…The team also has taken advantage of booming social networking sites, such as Facebook and MySpace, in reaching out to younger voters in their own element.
Democrats have been presented with a formidable asset, as a result of Obama campaign’s youth outreach. (See, for example Peter Dreier’s pre-election survey of some of the more innovative Obama youth groups at the HuffPo). As Scott Keeter, the Pew Research Center’s director of survey research, notes in Olsen’s article “In terms of a separate force created from the grass-roots, the machinery for that is in place in a way that I don’t think we’ve ever seen before.”
One of the more interesting ideas is to convert a substantial part of Obama’s youth army into an energetic, well-trained lobbying force of unprecedented scale. Electing great candidates like Obama is only half the battle. Making it possible for him to win reforms is also essential, if Obama is going to fufill his enormous potential. The same tools that youth used to effectively in the campaign, Youtube, Myspace, text messaging etc. can be equally effective in building coalitions for educating people about reform legislation and mobilizing them to put pressure on legislators to support needed reforms.
Kristina Rizga, executive editor of WireTap, a political youth magazine, explores some of the other possibilities, including community organizing, community service and running for office in her article “You Voted, Now What?” in The Nation. Rizga reports that there are now more than 600 community based youth organizations working on activist projects and directs her readers to future5000.com, a data base directory of progressive youth organizations across the US., “the virtual spinal cord of today’s youth movement.” Rizga concludes,
Young people helped elect our country’s first African-American president. Record numbers of volunteers chose working for their ideals over high-paying jobs. But the work isn’t over. Not by a long shot. Barack Obama may be able to seize the moment and push a new kind of politics, but not unless he is pushed to do so. He can only realize what he was elected to achieve with the continued energy of a new generation intent on real change. Here’s to anticipation for what a new generation of first-time voters can do to change their communities and the world.
It’s always a mistake to assume that elected officials will do their best work without constant encouragement and support. Mobilizing young voters to support a charismatic candidate like Obama was relatively easy, compared to enlisting them to work for his legislative agenda. But it is a challenge that must be met, if Obama is to have any chance of success.