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The Kids Are Still Alright
Sorry to mangle The Who, but voices of generations change. That much is apparent when you stand back and gauge the severity with which progressive America took back its legislative branch in the 2006 midterms aftermath. The House and Senate, overcome. Donald Rumsfeld, dumped. John Bolton, blocked. Dennis Hastert, a distant memory. Fear-mongers, disaster capitalists and 20th-century hangovers, all beaten back by a potent dose of democratic activism. For now, that is.
And this is the lesson that the young voters have seemed to learn: This grind never ends. It is, in fact, what makes us Americans.
And so young people turned out in droves, kicking ass and taking names, from George "Macaca" Allen to Rick "Man-on-Dog" Santorum. Even the conscientious Lincoln Chafee, who opposed the war in Iraq -- that motivated more than 10 million 18- to 29-year-olds to vote in the 2006 midterms -- was sacrificed in the Democrats' crossfire. They set records and broke molds, increasing their turnout from an unprecedented participation in 2004 by millions. And they voted Democrat more than double any other demographic. The margin of difference? An astounding 22 percentage points, an outright diss to the Republican base.
So, you do the math. If ten million representatives of Generation Xbox, who make up 13 percent of the overall electorate, march to the election booth mad as hell and unwilling to take it anymore, it is a pretty sure bet that the red states will turn blue with a quickness. And that is exactly what happened, and it couldn't have happened without the youth vote.
Plus, it's not like they didn't face major resistance. According to Harper's and BBC Newsnight journo Greg Palast, almost two million votes were stopped from ever being born according to the ironically titled Help America Vote Act (HAVA), timed specifically for this midterm election, "which required every state to reject new would-be voters whose identity can't be verified against a state verification database."
Guessing who those votes overwhelmingly belonged to -- African-Americans and Hispanics -- is about as hard as predicting that the e-voting house that HAVA built would be composed of nothing but error and interruption. The League of Young Voters, who I covered for an earlier WireTap feature, had to file lawsuits in Minnesota to keep the polls open late and, in Ohio, alert the authorities to what national field director Christina Hollenbeck called eleven "massively disenfranchised" precincts dense with youth voters. Students at the University of Maryland had to deal with a loss of ten polling machines -- what a surprise! -- two and a half-hour waiting lines, and still turned out in record-shattering force.
Along the way, they helped progressives around the world land key positions in key places, and put the reactionary Republican machine on notice. "The 2006 elections show that Republican campaigns must mobilize their base of young voters to win," GOP pollster Ed Goeas of the nonpartisan Young Voter Strategies in D.C. told the San Francisco Chronicle, as if that were news. (George Bush may be many things, but he's not a youth draw.) The only difference is that we all had some serious numbers to chew on.
The youth turnout rate -- which started at 24 percent -- will probably rise after scandals dissipate or are probed to satisfaction. In 36 precincts heavy with youth voters, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), a highly respected youth voter clearinghouse and research organization, voter turnout was six times the national average. That's called walking the walk.
Add it up, as the Violent Femmes once screamed, and you have change blowing in the wind and everyone smelling it at the same time. After all, in two years, these voters will be older and even more experienced, and they're not likely to change their political tune, and not simply because thousands of them may still be in Iraq, occupying another country for the sake of an American regime's stubborn ignorance. High school and college students, who have to do homework from hell to get ahead these days, will remember well enough that former ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith claimed the president didn't even know there were two major sects of Islam at work in Iraq, just months before the President ordered troops to bomb the life, liberty and happiness out of it. Considering the hideous price tag, in lives and dollars, it's hard for people who actually do homework to stomach the fact that their president cannot, even as he sends them off to die.
As the experts, pundits and players have agreed, it was the war that doomed Bush and empowered the Democrats. And it is how the war is managed now that America, most notably the young who must fight its wars and swing its elections, has kicked the Republicans to the curb. Because as this electorate grows and becomes ensconced in American political life, they are only going to stay loyal if their hard work, and it was hard, is rewarded with more than rhetoric.
"If they don't do something with the power we gave them last night, we won't vote for them in 2008," executive director of Music for America Molly Moon Neitzel told the same Chronicle reporter -- again, because it is some of these same Democrats who signed off on the war, or rolled over when the Bush juggernaut blew into town. Indeed, it could be argued that the Clintonian reach across the aisle, seen in some circles as civility and in others as capitulation, is what got us into this hyper-real mess in the first place.
No, if anything, the 2006 midterms showed that the youth vote, massively connected and refreshingly active, is not for sale and is not to be underestimated. The Democrats have finally awakened to its crowning power in the new millennium and would be wise not to ignore it in the future. And the same goes for the Republicans, if they ever want to win an election again.
Scott Thill runs the online mag Morphizm.com. His writing has appeared in Salon, XLR8R, All Music Guide, Wired and others.
Also in Youth Activism
- Best WireTap Stories of 2008 by The Editors
- Free Wheels: The Scraper Bike Movement Rolls On by Jamilah King
- You Voted. Now What? by Kristina Rizga
- Young Organizers Speak: We Are a New Coalition for the Common Interest by Matt Singer, Jefferson Smith
- Young Organizers Speak: It’s A New Era by Biko Baker