Yes, They Can | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Yes, They Can

Last Friday, several interns sat in front of their computers, refreshing their e-mail inboxes. They also had their cell phones at the ready, impatiently waiting for the big text message to come from Barack Obama announcing his running mate.

As I passed through the newsroom, I said something really stupid.

"I bet they send it right before the evening news," I predicted to blank stares.

Evening news: What's that?

Good point. I'm not in my 20s and didn't come of age covered with small digital devices—and I haven't watched the evening news in probably two years. I'm a local newspaper editor, and I don't watch local news broadcasts as a rule (who can stand the "if it bleeds, it leads" crap?). I don't have a newspaper thrown in my yard.

I subscribe to quality media, pick up good free publications, listen to public radio, watch C-SPAN and Charlie Rose sometimes, and get the rest of my news online.

That doesn't mean, however, that our interns and I are less informed. In fact, just the opposite. We can bypass the corporate media gatekeepers (who are falling apart by the day), and we can find primary information ourselves (like Government Accounting Office warnings about the proposed Flora bio-lab that state media have ignored; read the editorial, "Start Asking Questions" ).

But more than finding information, we can share our passion for change, and make things happen together. And one of the things young people are making happen this year is the nomination of a man who symbolizes change to the nation's highest office.

This is exciting for many reasons: For one, young people are finding their voices and, thus, their power. Here in Mississippi, the Jackson Free Press has said since we launched six years ago that this state is not a rock-solid "red" state, or doesn't have to be if progressives in the state will speak up and out, and stop hiding in the shadows. Of course, the state's progressives need someone to vote for—and it wasn't Ronnie Shows for Congress, or John Arthur Eaves for governor, or even Ronnie Musgrove (although he is likely to benefit from the Obama effect this fall, and is at least marginally better than Roger Wicker).

Even since they bounced over to the Dixiecrat aisle back in the 1960s to start courting the racist vote, the Republican Party (if not every Republican, thankfully) has preyed on the worst instincts of both Mississippians and Americans in general. By the time Ronald Reagan rode the Southern Strategy into office in 1980, wink-wink racism was how too many white folks got votes, and greed and selfishness became the ruling themes of politics. It got so ridiculous that all someone had to proclaim was "no more taxes!" (at least to help "them"), and he probably would get elected—even if it wasn't true. (See: Haley Barbour.)

Meantime, the same people who threatened to drown government in the bathtub have done the opposite—growing the budget and the federal deficit to record sizes, and trying to legislate individual morality, even as they couldn't figure out how to fulfill the basic functions of government, whether it was responding to specific terrorism threats before Sept. 11 or getting ice and medical help to the Gulf Coast after Katrina.

But America is changing. Americans are changing. Especially younger ones.

Part of it is simple demographics. People with old ideas are being replaced with younger people who understand that government plays an important role in a strong country—and that includes helping and empowering the needy, and doesn't include being a lapdog for corporations and bending over backward to let them get away with anything. And they sure don't want to watch their country devastated by a natural disaster and hear that national leaders are in New York shoe-shopping.

It may be hard for the old guard to swallow, but most millennials, as people in their teens and 20s today are called, are into government. They want a good, compassionate, responsive government—and unlike the two cynical generations before them, they believe the mess they've inherited can be repaired. And they're willing to roll up their sleeves and get busy repairing it.

Unfortunately, the first thing many old-timers say about the new generation is that they are "cocky." Or, they're impatient. Or, they're not willing to "pay their dues."

But those knee-jerk reactions miss the bigger picture: As the authors of "Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube & the Future of American Politics" point out, the generation that may well put Obama into office is not the cynical, dysfunctional Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers who, we must admit, lost our way and allowed greed and fear to cloud good sense. They are optimistic and civic, and believe in their power to change the world.

I believe they can, too.

The good news for us non-millennials is that we are in a prime position to help them. They need us and our knowledge and experience and grounding in reality; we need their optimism, energy, passion and creativity.

This weekend, I was reading spiritual leader Marianne Williamson's latest book, "The Age of Miracles: Embracing the New Midlife." Williamson is a solid boomer, while Barack Obama and I, both 47 this year, were born into that transitional generation between the boomers and Gen X—the "Jones Generation." Still, it was sobering to read her challenge to her fellow boomers: "Our generation has a lot to answer for, having partied so long and matured so late. ... An idealistic generation that was going to make everything much better has actually presided over an era in which many things have gotten much worse."

Tell it, sister.

But then, as she always does, Williamson offers a road map: "Our epiphany, for those of us who are baby boomers, is that in many ways we wasted our youth—not in that we lived it frivolously, but in that, in far too many cases we lived it only for ourselves. ... It's time for us to become elders and caretakers of this precious planet, not just in name but in passionate practice."

What this election represents goes far beyond partisanship. We must all make a choice: Do we live life, and work hard, only for ourselves and the stuff we can buy? Or do we become the passionate caretakers of the great American experiment, working with a diverse, younger generation that is ready to make up for past transgressions and greed?

I know how I'm voting.

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