There Is Strength in (Youth) Numbers


The Peace Corps sends young people to serve communites abroad. (Handout/Fresno Bee/MCT)

Published: November 20, 2008

If there is a lesson America’s youth can take from this past presidential election, whether liberal, conservative or moderate, it is that there is strength in numbers. There is strength in the 122 million voters who participated in the election, especially in the 18 percent of those voters who were between the ages of 18 and 29. However, the greatest strength in American youth is yet to unfold.

I am sure that years from now, regardless of party affiliation, we will all think back to where we were the night the first African-American president was elected. This event was more than a hundred years in the making, starting with the 13th Amendment and continuing through the Civil Rights Movement. This presidential election does not mark the end of the struggle for equality; however, it does mark a new beginning. And this is where we, the youth, come in. We can continue to be a part of the history we created.

As President-elect Barack Obama said during his victory speech, there is a new spirit of patriotism in which we share responsibility for our nation, a cause we can all unite under, regardless of political orientation. Along the same lines as John F. Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country,” America’s future lies in our hands, not entirely in the government’s. Just as African-American college students began sit-ins in a segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter during the civil rights movement because the government failed to defend their rights, we have the power to be catalysts for change in areas where the government falls short.

How can we make this new chapter in the country’s history ours? The recent election demonstrated that we, as young Americans, have strong beliefs, and there is no better time than now to act on them. However, there isn’t a single answer for everyone. Even though Obama rejected high-status job offers in order to become a community organizer, we don’t necessarily have to follow his footsteps. There are other ways to dedicate ourselves to service, regardless of career plans. Obama plans to create volunteer programs such as a Classroom Corps, Health Corps and Clean Energy Corps so that young Americans can be part of bringing the change we seek. And for those who do have a long-term dedication to service, Obama plans to expand national service programs like Peace Corps and AmeriCorps.

You can also create change in your life on a day-to-day basis by being informed. Support your service with knowledge of the issues your organization targets. After all, service without knowledge is like action without thought. For example, consider why the healthcare system needs reform and why certain groups are at a disadvantage when it comes to receiving the healthcare they need.

Finally, ensure that the world sees our generation for our passion and interest in politics. Don’t settle for apathy. Be informed of what is happening in our country because it is our responsibility to let the government know what we expect of them. Let them know that we are watching and will not be taken as the generation that was too busy surfing Facebook to make an impact on the world. Individual efforts may feel as if they are done in vain, but everyone has a role to fill. Together we can show the strength of America’s youth. Change is not immediate, but it begins with us, one person at a time.

Regardless of whoever is president, this country belongs to the people, and the future belongs to us. One person can make a difference, but a multitude can create even bigger change. It is a long road ahead, but for the meantime, make use of our momentum and count on the strength of numbers. We are the change we are waiting for.