Inauguration Day: Students for Obama
By 4:00 AM, Anderson was surrounded by rush-hour-level crowds heading for the Mall in the bracing, pre-dawn darkness. As the sun rose gracefully over the capitol, he recalled a sense of "Joyous anticipation and also apprehensiveness," -perhaps born of unprecedented security around the city, and prayers that the day would achieve its exceptional promise, indelible to memory.
Anderson had traveled to some of the poorest areas of the Carolinas during the primaries and the general election, canvassing door-to-door. On Election Day, in a cold and rainy East Durham, North Carolina, he and his friend David worried that the weather might diminish turnout, so they crisscrossed neighborhoods in a last ditch effort to secure voters. They encountered much excitement in the local air, even among undocumented citizens not qualified to vote. Many residents had already visited the polls. Those who hadn't yet were inspired by the canvassers to get moving. One African American woman was enthusiastic about an Obama presidency for her children's sake, but had no transportation. The young men raced to their car and drove the mother and father to the polling place at the elementary school. "When the couple walked out [of the booths,] they were beaming," says Anderson. By the end of their long day, Nicholas and David were rain drenched but felt thrilled and rewarded by their contribution.
Looking for more insight into the phenomenal youth movement that coalesced around Mr. Obama during his campaign, I asked Anderson if he detected, in himself or his peers, any cynicism or anger in response to the Bush years. His answer was a qualified "no." In regard to our national debt, foreign entanglements and declining national reputation, he said, "It's our generation that will be saddled with the consequences." But his remarks clearly suggested they are not interested in wasting time on imbibing the bitter pills. The younger set seems rather unfazed, less backward glancing and more forward looking, as Obama himself advocates in his speeches.
I asked Anderson to name his concerns, as he cast his vote for Barack Obama's promise of change. The candidate was Anderson's preferred choice on all fronts, from the Iraq war to education, to the environment, to creating an economic balance between market regulation and dynamism. He was drawn to the candidate's tone of tolerance, his vision for dissolving the causes of terrorism and reducing reliance on military means. Obama also received high marks on character, perceived as aligning his actions with his professed beliefs.
Anderson himself is a young man acting on his own words. His special interest in the environment motivated him in 2007 to lead a college project in rural Argentina, improving health and quality of life for a village school. His Project Isonza restored a greenhouse and chicken coop for improved nutrition, and installed a solar hot water system for better hygiene, cutting down on transmittable illnesses and infection. Nicholas has worked with UNC and Duke University to design an on-going summer program whereby the project will be continued and developed for lasting impact on a wider scale. He plans to start a solar panel installation business here at home, in a growing renewable energy marketplace under President Obama.
Anderson articulated his overarching concern; that America, a land born to foster self-reliance and unlimited dreams, seemed to be reaching a point in which "its government is not as good as its people." Most of us can relate. We have experienced long disconnection from leaders whom the system has deemed worthy. The grass roots rise of Barack Obama and his team promises a more authentic mirror of the people, deeper investment in the public interest and, daring the optimism, steps toward a more perfect union.
We who have lived somewhat longer--well, a lot longer, might ponder when last we looked in trust to our government for direction rather than in suspicion upon its blunders and missteps. Disillusionment was rampant during the 60s and 70s, let alone the ensuing decades. We might marvel at this younger generation's relative calm, its departure from the cynicism we have grown used to, like a worn pair of jeans.
There is some comfort in this. The earlier pendulum swung fiercely in opposition--fire fought with fire. This one swings gently in pro-action--flames casting a wider light. The apparent contradiction may be closer to a progression. America is 232-years-young, and perhaps we are entering a new consciousness in which historical lessons learned merge with a polarity shift toward positive solutions. As cynical realism needs its dose of optimism, optimism needs its dose of hard-won realism. The generations have much to share. Too rosy an outlook? Some might say so. But what true and lasting change (or art for that matter) has ever been born of cynicism?
Anderson says his favorite segment of the inaugural address is President Obama's point that our American inheritance issues from those who gave their all to difficult tasks, as in prevailing through the gravest point of the Revolutionary War:
"Let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father
of our nation ordered these words to be read to the people:
"Let it be told to the future world…that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive…that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet it."
The power in those words brings our challenges into perspective. It could be argued that the dramas of our era pale in comparison to George Washington's, and that unprecedented opportunity is opening its door to invite the next, great generation, in.
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