Confessions of a Would-be Activist: A Story of Personal Regime Change

This post is part of a series for the Youth Media Blog-a-Thon on the topic of “regime change.”

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I’ll admit it, though it seems almost blasphemous now: I was not an early supporter of Barack Obama.

Call me a Washington insider bent on maintaining the status quo (perhaps my brief residence in the District has infected me with the noxious virus), but Hillary was my girl in the primaries. I trusted her experience in the White House and Senate, valued her track record of working across party lines to get things done, and respected her tenacity. And perhaps an iota of my inner-feminist self felt warm and fuzzy over the prospect of a woman cracking the whip as Commander-in-Chief.

I, like some others, initially underestimated the titanic power of Obama’s message of change in steering the course of the 2008 election. Americans had more than enough of “the failed policies of George Bush,” and Obama’s team artfully crafted his campaign to reveal a picture of a man diametrically opposed to his predecessor. Mr. Obama won over the hearts and minds of Americans from all walks of life, evincing a remarkable ability to transcend traditional boundaries of age, race, income, and geography.

Following Hillary’s defeat in the primaries, I quickly found myself doing a 180 and drinking the Obama Kool-Aid–along with a lot of other young people across the nation. Record numbers of youth forked over hard-earned cash and peeled themselves away from Guitar Hero long enough to canvas door-to-door and scream for their new favorite rock star at political rallies. But the ever-dramatic pundits questioned: Would they turn out at the polls?

How could the political analysts be so pessimistic about the youth vote? Simple: people like me.

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I consider myself an “activist.”  I’m employed with a “public engagement” campaign that advocates for educational reform. I write a blog
for that same campaign, which as a “democratic voice” on the web is
activist and grassroots-y and maybe even a little edgy in itself,
right? Among the interests I list on my blogger profile is “activism.”
Pet peeve: apathy.

And yet, I contributed to Hillary’s fall from favor by well, not
contributing. When the primaries rolled around, I was apparently too
busy listening to the play-by-play on NPR to actually make it out to
the polls. Perhaps I was confused by the myriad voting days pertaining
to the DC-MD-VA border region (can’t we all just commit to Super Tuesday)?
More likely, I was hampered by confusion over the actual details of my
registration. Was I still registered in Massachusetts, and with the
Democrats or the Green Party? Should I fill out an absentee ballot, or
re-register in Washington, D.C.? This small intellectual hurdle turned
out to be enough to effect civic paralysis. This was not the first time
a minor detail had rendered me civically incapacitated: While in
college, I filled out an absentee ballot for the 2006 Massachusetts
gubernatorial race, and then somehow faltered when it came to the
difficult “step 2″ of actually placing said ballot in the outgoing mail
stream. Luckily, my preferred candidate came out on top that time
around and I made up for my previous snub by friending newly elected
Governor Deval Patrick on Facebook.

I’m pleased to report that I snapped out of my civic malaise in time
for the 2008 general election. A number of factors likely had an
impact: First, I was accosted by a friendly volunteer outside the local
Safeway grocery store who asked the dreaded question: “Have you
registered to vote?” I made the oh-so-difficult decision to register in
my new, post-college district of residence, vaulting over my previous mental barrier. Then, there was the seemingly boundless surge in
excitement leading up to November. In a town where politics rules the
day every day, and where 95% of residents ultimately voted Democratic,
the palpable fervor was impossible to ignore.

Finally, I attended my first-ever political rally in Manassas, Virginia,
the night before Election Day. I got chills from more than just the
late autumn air as I witnessed one of the most inspiring speeches I had
ever heard. I felt personally accountable to the 90,000 fellow
Americans with whom I stood that night. Besides, Obama’s savvy campaign
team wasn’t going to let me off the hook easily. Young organizers
emphatically took hold of the microphone and entreated Virginians (a
contentious swing state that voted Democrat for the first time in 44
years) to get out and vote the following day. That night, and
throughout Election Day, I received text-messages from the Virginia
campaign office reminding me to vote. And I did. And so did 23 million other 18-30 year olds, more than half of the total demographic, and the highest youth turnout ever!

So what lessons can be gleaned from my personal journey from political
advocate to civic activist, and from the success of Obama’s campaign in
inspiring millions of well-intentioned ne’er-do-wells like me to vote?
How do you get people who sport campaign icons on their Facebook
profiles to turn up at the polls? Obama’s team clearly employed some
pretty creative, aggressive, and ultimately effective tactics to this
end (more on specific strategies later this week).

I’m wondering:
If you voted in the 2008 election, but did not vote in previous
elections, what was the “tipping point” that pushed you over the edge
this time around (barring age restrictions)? Do you plan to stay
actively involved with the current administration? Do you expect you’ll
vote in future elections?

Another question:
Do you participate in activism campaigns, either through donating
money, volunteering time, writing letters to Congress or other means?
Which causes do you support and what is it about their calls to action
that compels you to participate?

Images courtesy Politico.com,  Gainesville.org.

Sarah Jane for My Wonderful World

One response to “Confessions of a Would-be Activist: A Story of Personal Regime Change

  1. We must remember the importance of voting in all elections for which we are eligible. Many people throughout the world are denied that right.
    Voting is the simplest and most effective form of activism. By doing so, we send a clear message to our politicians as to our assessment of how they are performing and if they are representing the wishes of the citizenry.
    JC

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