Now I get it: This is their generation's March on Washington.
My son Adam Konner is a senior at the University of Michigan who, like so many other young people, has been working to elect Barack Obama.
For eight years I kept asking him, his sisters, and all their friends, "Where's the movement? Where's the movement? All you kids do is complain about how bad the government is. In the ‘60s we did something." It wasn't until I read Adam's piece below—published in the Michigan Daily and reprinted with his permission—that I understood what they were waiting for.
We did what we could in our way, but their way was going to be different. They bided their time and guarded their spirits until the chance came along not just to march and chant and try to grab headlines and maybe influence an election here and there. They waited for a chance to take over the reins of government. With hundreds of thousands of others, I marched in the nation's capital for jobs and freedom in 1963 and against the Pentagon in 1967. We made our statement loud and clear. And then we went home.
I don't say we didn't make an impact. We got headlines. We helped change laws and end a war. But this was their March on Washington, and the very big difference is that they are not leaving anytime soon.
A generation coming of age
The most amazing thing that happened in Ann Arbor on Tuesday night was not Barack Obama winning the presidential election. It was the reaction to it. Late into the night, people were marching down the middle of the streets, unplanned, through the diag, to the stadium and back, singing, dancing, hugging, playing drums, horns and didgeridoos, waving American flags, shouting the pledge of allegiance and singing the national anthem with tears running down their faces. For students at this university and at universities all over the country, Tuesday night was more than a landslide Democratic victory and a swing of the left-right pendulum. It was the coming of age of a generation-a generation born on 9/11 and raised under an unjust war.
I've been a student at this university on and off for eight years. I was a freshman, just beginning my politically aware life, when George W. Bush was elected to his first term. In his first few months in office, Bush had already begun systematically destroying our civil liberties, dismantling our economic regulations, expanding our global hegemony, and thoroughly embarrassing us in the eyes of the rest of the world. At that time, a friend of mine said to me, "All we need is some kind of major disaster to bring us together, and we'll have a movement. It'll be like the sixties again."
It's laughable now, but at the time it already seemed like things couldn't get much worse. And then one morning I woke up in my dorm room at East Quad, turned on the television, and watched the towers crumble. And I said to myself, "This is it. This is the wake up call we've been waiting for. Now we will have a movement." And indeed, a movement began, but it was a movement in the complete opposite direction from the one I had imagined. It was a movement based on fear and hatred rather than peace and love. In the coming years I found out just how much worse things could get. And each time something really terrible happened, I said to myself, "Surely now, our movement will begin." And I kept being disappointed. I did my part. I joined student activist groups. I went to protests and rallies in Washington D.C., Chicago, Ann Arbor and elsewhere. I tried to organize. And I kept saying to myself, "Where's the movement?"
Then on the morning of November 3, 2004, after finding out that Bush had been reelected, I buried my head in the sand. I swore off newspapers and magazines for almost two years. Every news story I heard, read or watched made me so angry it hurt. I lost hope. And even when I reemerged, I was so jaded that I thought things would never change.
But Tuesday night I saw something I've never seen before. For the first time in my life, I saw people chanting, yelling, and marching in the streets, not out of rage, but out of joy. Not fighting, but celebrating. Not trying to change an unchangeable system but rejoicing in the change we had already made. And for probably the first time in my life, I felt proud to be an American.
For us, Barack Obama is more than a president. He is more than a milestone in civil rights history our parents could only dream of. He is a symbol-a symbol of equality, a symbol of cooperation, and most importantly, a symbol of hope. He is simultaneously the Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King of a new generation. Our generation.
Maybe this is the movement I've been waiting for. Maybe our generation will finally finish the work our parents started. I believe that this movement has been wanting to happen for a long time, and this may very well be our chance. Because for the first time in my life, it's not something terrible that is bringing us together, but something wonderful. Bush's most successful political achievement was killing the hope of his opposition. Obama's, so far, has been nursing it back to life. Maybe this is our moment. But we have to make it happen. We can.