Nearly a year ago, in February 2014, I had the distinct pleasure to cover President Obama’s visit to Michigan State University. He was in East Lansing to sign what became known as “the Farm Bill.” I worked hard to make sure I was in the room (that’s a story for another post). To be sure, the bill was an important piece of legislation. But I couldn’t tell you what the specifics were at the time. I knew the basics – it involved agriculture funding, and then Senator Debbie Stabenow (D – Michigan) was a key player in crafting the bill, as a result bringing the president to our campus. But none of that was my reason for being there.
I fought to be there because I viewed President Obama as MY generation’s president. Let me explain…
Rewind to 2004. Outkast is playing non-stop on the radio. Beyoncé is now a solo act. Napoleon Dynamite is a popular Halloween costume. Friends has ended. And I am a freshman in college at MSU. I’ve essentially come of a politically aware age in a time of war. I was a sophomore in high school during 9/11, sitting in U.S. history class as we watched the first I tower fall in horrified silence. As a junior and senior, many of my classmates enlisted, and the required selective service registration for guys took on a potentially new meaning as we turned 18. Now as a college freshman, I am preparing to vote in my first presidential election. I vote absentee (for the first and only time to date) because I am registered back in my home time and freshmen can’t have cars on campus. My main impression of this election: amazement. As I walked through the commons outside my dormitory in the Brody complex, I saw dozens of campaign signs taped to windows. Kerry. Bush. Even the lesser-known candidates from parties I had never heard of. During election night, I was floored to see students watching the returns. Even as I participated in the election, though, I felt like politicians were ignoring my age demographic.
2007… I’ve now declared a minor in history, focusing on American history and pop culture. As an English major, I appreciate the power of the written and spoken word. As an Honors College student, I’ve always been a card-carrying member of the nerd group. As the daughter of a police officer, I’ve always taken my civic duty seriously. I’m preparing to finish my senior year and graduate in the spring. Suddenly, I have a lot more riding on the results of a presidential election. So, naturally, my type-A self decides I better research all the candidates and their positions. I mean all of them. Practically down to the county drain commissioner. I think there may have even been spreadsheets involved.
That was when I discovered Barack Obama.
Googling the candidates’ and potential candidates’ names, I came across articles mentioning his 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention. I’ll admit, I hadn’t watched it at the time. But I was intrigued and found a transcript online. I was blown away. I remember emailing my parents the speech. Then calling and telling them to check their email and read the text. I was hooked.
From there on, I followed the Obama campaign, voting for him in both 2008 and 2012. I wasn’t just fascinated by his style, or impressed by his dialogue. I was wowed by his campaigns’ tactics. Facebook. Twitter. YouTube. The Daily Show. They proved they understood modern technology and popular culture, and to me these modern practices signified modern ideas.
Between the 2008 and 2012 elections I obtained a Master’s degree in public relations with a focus on social media. We used the 2008 campaign as a case study. In 2014 I was able to attend South by Southwest panels with both the 2012 campaign communications staff, Elizabeth Warren’s campaign staff, and Chelsea Clinton discussing how modern technology is improving both campaigns and lives.
Now it’s 2015. This year’s State of the Union was published, in full, on the blog site Medium BEFORE it was given to the tradition gatekeeper media. The news outlets showed live Twitter commentary before and after the speech on screen. There were official hashtags. The writing process was revealed in behind-the-scenes posts all week on Instagram and Storify. We have been given a live view of how government operates. I know this because, like many (most?) of my generation, I am a compulsive consumer of digital content. I make my living on social media all day. The government is meeting Millenials on our own turf!
In his speech, President Obama said that we must be “freer to write our own future.” But when this is needed, many my own age aren’t rising to the challenge. That is what drives me crazy about some of my fellow Millenials. We are the largest potential voter block in the country. Yet many are apathetic and fail to seize the opportunity to raise their voice. The State of the Union addressed many issues that are important to this generation: child care, paid sick leave, healthcare, student loans, jobs, medical research, global warming, etc. Many may say these issues don’t impact them right now, so they don’t act when asked. I don’t have cancer, but I know many who have been impacted by it and I can’t argue against increasing research funding. I don’t have kids. But someday I hope to, and then I’ll be glad that the issue of paid sick leave was brought up since from what I can tell parents need it! And at this rate, I’ll be thrilled if there are still polar bears for my kids to see, rather that learning about them as majestic animals that used to walk the Earth.
My point is this: President Obama is right. We do need to be freer to write our own future. But what he didn’t say is this: we have to allow that freedom to ourselves. We need to take action. And it all starts with raising your voice. And your voting card.
You can get information on voter registration at http://www.usa.gov/Citizen/Topics/Voting/Register.shtml.
“We may go at it in campaign season, but surely we can agree that the right to vote is sacred; that it’s being denied to too many; and that, on this 50th anniversary of the great march from Selma to Montgomery and the passage of the Voting Rights Act, we can come together, Democrats and Republicans, to make voting easier for every single American.” —President Obama #SOTU
Top photo: “2011 State of the Union Obama” by Pete Souza (Executive Office of the President of the United States) – http://www.whitehouse.gov/photos-and-video/photogallery/2011-state-union-address. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – Link