April 25, 2008
One of the most compelling aspects of the 2008 presidential race is the widening gap between young voters and their elders. The media is filled with stories of how young people have become passionately involved in the election. Most of them are Democrats, which seems to both stun established party leaders – and simultaneously impress them. Young voters have coalesced around BarackObama’s candidacy in particular. In the myriad of op ed pieces written both before and after the Pennsylvania primary to explain Clinton’s win there, the one that struck me most forcibly identified the state’s population as the 2nd oldest in the U.S., after Florida. Young people have left Pennsylvania in search of jobs.
When I try to think of a time in America when young people got politically active, of course I think of the 60’s. Young people took the lead in the anti-war movement. ..which makes brutal sense when you consider that, given the draft, so many of them were paying an unbearable price for the Vietnam war. And young people rallied in formidable numbers to support of the civil rights movement, using powerful but peaceful means to protest racial segregation. We inherit too many images of the 60’s which denigrate young people as drop outs, druggies, and potheads… but historically it’s true that as protestors, negotiators, spokespeople, soldiers, voters, community organizers and students, they reshaped our country, that they passionately participated in legitimate nonviolent efforts to establish a more just, a more peaceful nation. They gave us a vision of America that many in this theater here tonight learned wisdom from.
And they weren’t very old. Just past their teens. Sometimes in their teens.
Given history, I think we have to ask ourselves… How is it so easy to dismiss young people? How is it so easy to decide that they can’t have the issues right? Why do we allow ourselves to assume that wisdom comes from age? That clarity must be informed by years, by experience?
Perhaps if age could indeed confer wisdom, it might be in the form of a little more humility. And it might keep us listening to young people… because they may very well be the leaders we’re looking for.