Throughout this election we’ve been fortunate to witness the inspiring involvement of so many young Americans, many of whom are not even old enough to vote. Families are bringing their children to campaign events; teenagers are canvassing neighborhoods; and college students are organizing student groups. With so much at stake in this election, I am proud to witness the involvement of this new generation of Americans. They understand their participation is not limited to the ballot box: they are volunteering their time and effort to improve the well-being of our country.
Blogs, MySpace, Facebook, and YouTube have changed the way young people participate in the political process. I have made it a priority to reach young people by participating in such venues as the MTV/MySpace Presidential Dialogue, hosting a blog on my website, and reaching out through social networking sites.
Reaching young people isn’t simply about the logistics of how you communicate; it is about what you communicate. Young people are not fixated on a single issue. They want leaders who will address the many critical issues directly affecting their lives, the lives of their families, and the people in their communities.
At town hall meetings across the country, I am repeatedly inspired by the commitment of the young women and men who crowd in to have their voices heard—veterans home from Iraq, relating what they saw, telling us to let them win; volunteers with the ONE Campaign talking about their efforts to alleviate global poverty; recent college graduates wondering what I will do to make health care affordable; and the countless young people who ask how I plan to combat the problem of climate change.
After 9/11, leaders in Washington missed an opportunity to call young people to service. Young men and women, who are willing to give of themselves and sacrifice, want a leader who will ask something of them. Young people want—and deserve—to have their opinions respected and their concerns taken seriously. I know this and will continue to call on young people to serve causes greater than their own self-interest.
Young people understand the power that the political process wields as a force for change, and they are actively engaged in harnessing that power to bring about change for their families, their communities and their world. I see, in the efforts and enthusiasm of America’s youth, that our nation’s best days are ahead of us. I hear the message of young people loud and clear, and as President, I will honor the obligation of today’s leaders to leave the next generation a more peaceful and prosperous world than the one we have today.
We are in a defining moment in our history. We’re fighting two wars. Our planet is in peril. Our economy is in turmoil. And the dream that so many generations fought for feels as if it’s slowly slipping away.
Now, I know that the easiest thing in the world for young people to do is nothing at all. To turn off the TV, put down the newspaper, and walk away from the stories about Iraq or Darfur or the rising levels of joblessness and hopelessness in our own communities. To go about their busy lives, wishing these problems away, expecting someone else to solve them. To remain detached and indifferent.
But I hope they don’t do what is easy—because sometimes, there are moments when what’s truly risky is not to act. What’s truly risky is to accept things as they are instead of working for what could be.
Taking action can mean getting involved politically. We’ve seen huge numbers of young people taking part in our campaign. They’re knocking on doors and making phone calls and helping fight to bring about real change in this country.
But action can also happen outside the political arena. I was born the year that John F. Kennedy called a generation of Americans to ask their country what they could do. And I came of age at a time when they did it. They were the Peace Corps volunteers who won a generation of goodwill toward America. They were the teenagers and college students who knew it was probably safer to stay at home, but still decided to take the Freedom Rides down South. And because they did, they changed the world. And they inspired me, just out of college, to move to Chicago to help lift up neighborhoods that were devastated when the local steel plants closed.
So at this historic moment, we must ask our rising generation to serve their country as Americans always have—by working on a political campaign or joining the military, by doing community service or relief work abroad. Because that’s how real change has always come—from ordinary people coming together to do extraordinary things; from all those, young and old, black, white, and brown, who were willing to do what was risky and what was hard and put their shoulders to the wheel of history, and turn it towards opportunity and equality and justice for all.