On a cold January day almost two years ago, I joined thousands of young Americans on the Capitol grounds as we heard our new President address the fears of our generation; "a sapping of confidence across our land; a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, that the next generation must lower its sights."
Our generation wasn't taking it sitting down - we voted in record numbers in 2008. During the last presidential election, young Americans were energized, and a solid majority voted for change. We stood up to the tyranny of the word "impossible" and proved wrong everyone who doubted the possibility of an Obama Presidency. We cast votes for equality - equal dignity, equal opportunity, equal rights. We voted for prosperity, and we were not going to lower our sights.
Our votes did more than elect President Obama; we sent a record - though still inadequate - number of women to the House and Senate. The Congress we elected created 1-3 million jobs by investing in our country. The Representatives we voted for expanded health insurance for children, fought for gender parity, and fought against hate crimes. The Senators we chose helped states like North Carolina stay solvent, and kept Charlotte-Mecklenburg teachers in the classroom.
Now, it seems as if there's another sapping of confidence across America, and a tired electorate is tossing away our dreams and aspirations like an empty coffee cup. The pundits' projections are counting on 18-to-30-year-olds to stay home. The early voting demographics in North Carolina state haven't disabused me of this notion. Furthermore, many of my contemporaries were more excited about attending Jon Stewart's rally in D.C. than voting.
All signals point to our empowered Generation Y of 2008 becoming a diffident "Generation Why?" in 2010, and that would be a travesty. Instead, we need to get out and vote.
We have the choice between steeling our resolve or staying home and accepting a government that fails to reflect our values. The choices could not be clearer. In Kentucky, the GOP's Senate candidate would have voted against the Civil Rights Act. In Colorado, the would-be Senator equates alcoholism with homosexuality.
Here in North Carolina, incumbent Senator Richard Burr voted against legislation that would have prevented our government from doing business with companies that abide sexual harassment and rape. State House Minority Leader Skip Stam, in line to be Speaker if Republicans take over, was the only person in the NC House to vote against a hate crimes bill that punishes racial intimidation. He also equates gay marriage with polygamy on his website. These 19th Century values are common among this year's conservative candidates.
It is unfortunate that American politics has become so polarized that it is impossible for Republican candidates to reflect the values of the vast majority of young voters. I may be biased - I voted for President Obama three times in 2008, and every time I see an unoriginal attack ad bashing the “Pelosi Agenda,” I wonder why the ad spends its time appealing to latent sexism and fear of a woman in a position of power.
Still, I'm a Democrat because the Democratic Party is the only major Party with a commitment to the rights of all human beings. An acknowledgment of the importance of gender parity, racial equality, freedom of sexual orientation, and essential rights like health care and education.
The Democratic Party is the party that remembers that FDR's New Deal, Eisenhower's Interstate Highway System, and LBJ's Great Society weren't socialism but rather promises made by a government to its people that instilled the confidence and security necessary to create middle class prosperity. Each time the decline of America seemed inevitable, Democrats and moderate Republicans told the next generation that things would be better.
Democrats are working, albeit imperfectly, for a future based in the values of a civic generation. The Democratic Congress and President Obama have led our nation through a period of great economic turmoil, and we can be confident that our future looks more like a Martin Luther King, Jr. speech and less like a Margaret Atwood novel.
I implore you to not mistake this as a partisan message. Rather, it's a pragmatic one. I'm talking to young Americans, not Obama supporters or party loyalists. I'm talking to parents who don't want their generation to be the first that leaves less opportunity to its children. I'm reaching out to anyone who believes that the arc of American history bends toward social justice. And yes, I'm talking to people who just want to restore sanity.
A Buddhist proverb says that "if we are facing in the right direction, all we have to do is keep on walking." If you believe, as I do, that we're on the right track - or if you believe, as I do, that the alternative is definitely the wrong track - then walk to the polls and vote.
Are there Republicans who want to restore sanity? Absolutely. Most members of both parties love our country, and want us to prosper together. I voted for one such Republican for District Court this year. Nevertheless, the paleoconservative policies that Republican leaders have picked for political purposes are an affront to progress, prosperity, and parity. Nothing will sap our confidence quicker than the policies of a Tea Party-controlled Congress or General Assembly.
Once again, the young generation has the opportunity to demonstrate that America's decline is not inevitable. Let's resist the comfort of complacency and keep the change.
Young citizens, be both. Vote.