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Obama's impact on 'Generation We'

He fired up young voters. Let's keep that momentum.

By John Christian Hoyle / November 14, 2008

Mobile, Ala.

Don't call them slackers anymore. By helping to thrust Barack Obama into the White House, young people have stridently shaken off their reputation as unmotivated and civically apathetic. Last week's election was owned by young people.

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Clearly Obama's victory was big for African-Americans of any age. But it also marked a seismic generational shift in American politics. Before they rocked the vote, young people flexed their activist muscles during the long campaign by employing tech-savvy tactics that elude older generations.

Yes they hit the streets and worked the phones. But more important, they sent text messages, blogged, instant messaged, posted YouTube videos, designed Obama iPhone applications, and mobilized online support for the man who represents two things that young people thrive on: hope and change.

Obama acknowledged as much in his victory speech in Chicago's Grant Park: "It [the campaign] grew strength from the young people who rejected the myth of their generation's apathy, who left their homes and their families for jobs that offered little pay and less sleep."

This was grass-roots organizing – some have called it netroots – for the 21st century, and its oomph has perhaps changed American politics for the foreseeable future. No doubt Obama's methods will push campaign strategists to court the online and under-30 crowd – or "Generation We." This election has proven that they are a force that the Washington establishment must reckon with. Now the task is to keep the momentum going.

In 2016, young voters under age 30 will be the largest voting block at 100 million strong. They will be the most educated American generation, according to Michael Connery's book "Youth to Power." And they see their inheritance from the baby boomers as an America in decline.

Yet they remain optimistic. They also want to change the perception that America is an arrogant and greedy nation. And this yearning to make a difference is what Obama successfully tapped into.

I am a journalism teacher and administrator, and the bulk of high school students I interact with daily attest to this. Many already describe themselves as activists and they say they are ready for America to change course. To quote a student's recent journal: "Adults have sort of screwed up the world and WE NEED to do something about it before our time's up…. Look at the economy, the environment, all the poverty and crime, all the intolerance, the Iraq war … politicians get nowhere and they're always arguing. We can't just sit back and watch."