We attempted to stake our claim as the generation of cynicism, and thankfully we failed miserably. With our lives on hyperdrive, where post-modern discontent and hipster irony twist the denotation of cultural and consumer slogans into unintelligible status symbols, we somehow found ourselves chanting "Yes We Can." Say what you will about Barack Obama, but he alone was not the victor last Tuesday.
It is critical that as a generation we take this opportunity to sit up, take off our headphones, and look around. With our optimism clouded by the conservative hegemony of our upbringing and by what many considered the failure of our parents' generation to fulfill the promises of their revolutions, we chose the paths of least resistance. We were perhaps hoping to bide our time until change happened, feeling that the burden of political transformation would be passed to our children. This was an understandable reaction, and underneath the cynicism lay a dormant progressivism which we thought might never have the chance to emerge. Young people have decidedly progressive stances on major political issues, but declined the opportunity to say so on Election Day.
Let's not make the mistake of underestimating what just happened. At this point, we have no idea what the long-term results will be. But the premise that now we can disband and wait for manna from Washington is one we have evidence to contradict. Young people had a powerful influence on this election. We voted on issues, not buzz words, we cared about the facts, and we didn't let identity politics get in our way. We watched presidential debates and Tina Fey with equal fervor. We took off school, we went to Indiana, and we fucking won.
This is not to say that it's all over—far from it. But from this side of Tuesday, we should have renewed, or rather, new confidence in our ability to bring about change. Don't believe it? We just elected the next president of the United States, a man whose primary opponent was "inevitable," and whose party had been out of favor for the past 30 years. This was an effort of great seriousness and great coordination.
The apparatus is in place for us already. Obama's legion of young organizers can become the progressive movement's new base. The 50-state strategy, once derided as the pipe dream of an underfunded candidate from Vermont, proved to be an effective way to challenge Republican conservatism in a slew of unlikely places including North Carolina, Virginia, Indiana, Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada. Trends from 2006 and this election indicate that with more time and money, we could elect more progressives in Arizona, Montana, North Dakota, Missouri, and Georgia. We set the stage, and we can push harder for the things that matter to us.
We don't need Obama. There, we said it. We needed him for this election, and for two years he inspired us, organized us, and gave us an experience we're going to take with us. But now we have the tools at our disposal to take our organizing to the issues that made us support Obama in the first place. Let's have a rally of 100,000 people for single-payer health care. Let's start a campaign of $5 and $10 donations to buy airtime about immigration reform, and let's screen an ad from a viral video contest. We know these campaign tactics by now, and we know how to get our peers involved. The task now is to convert elation into productivity so our celebration is not empty.
Let's prove that there has never been a better time in American history to be a 20-something. Who cares if the banking industry is in shambles? We're moving forward too fast to whine about it. Times of economic insecurity are terrific opportunities for risk-taking. Let's be experimental. Take a leaf out of Obama's book and believe that with the right effort, we can prove everyone wrong. The market downturn and progressive ascendancy can be channeled into a reflective atmosphere where we critically assess our national goals and set new standards for social justice and cooperation. The Obama presidency doesn't define our mark on the world, but it opens the possibility that we will have one which is not mere reaction.
Sarah Leonard is a Columbia College junior majoring in history. Kate Redburn is a Columbia College junior majoring in history and African studies. Shock and Awe runs alternate Tuesdays. Opinion@columbiaspectator.com