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Election Obsession

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I was born in 1958, and grew up in Berkeley, California, in the 1960s and 1970s. It was a tumultuous time, and my parents were deeply involved in the affairs of the day. But we did not even own a television until the spring of 1968, as the Democratic convention approached. The country then was in fear. We were in the midst of the war in Vietnam, and the Civil Rights Movement was unfinished business. In April of that year, Martin Luther King, Jr, was murdered by a white supremacist.

Richard Nixon won that election – having roused the “silent majority” of voters who feared the social changes under way, and thought he might stem the tide and preserve “law and order.” He, ironically, became the first president forced to resign for his own criminal activities.

This election we are sensing a seismic political shift. Our students, as usual, have been ahead of the rest of us. USA Today reported that Obama won national student polls by 18 points, 57% for Obama to 39% for McCain.

In 1968, Walter Cronkite brought the Democratic convention into our living room in black and white. This year in my home, the TV is tuned to CNN and MSNBC, and on my laptop, I check political blogs for the very latest tidbits, polling results and analysis.

The election results in 1968 and 1972 reflected an electorate that wanted to stave off change. The result this year is not in as I write this, but if the poll of our students is any indication, we may have an electorate ready to embrace change, and I have never seen people – especially the youth -- so excited and motivated about an election.

How does this election compare to others you have experienced? How have your students been reacting to the process? What do you think the election results tell us about the direction of the country?

2 Comments

Anthony:

I may be a bit older (and more midwestern) than you, but like you, the
1968 election stands out as a first political memory. I was aware of elections before that and enjoyed watching the count of states at the conventions--even knowing that the "spontaneous demonstrations" were staged. But the 1968 Chicago Democratic convention was, as some say, a "radicalizing" experience for me. I read Mayor Daily's lips as he shouted things that would have been bleeped had they not been lost in the cacophony. I noted the freedom delegations that were barred, I saw the violence in the streets outside.

I was older when I started hearing, and believing, that Martin Luther King jr was allowed a voice until he opposed the Vietnam War. The things that I have learned since about the FBI and CIA activities of the time only convince me that if they wanted to and had the opportunity to participate in King's assassination there would not have been a sense of morality or allegiance to any democratic values that would have prevented it.

1972 was my first presidential election. While I have voted in every one since then, I have never again had the hope and enthusiasm that was present back in the late 60s.

Yesterday I took my kids--both of voting age--and a friend who is only 17--to a rally. There were 60,000 excited and energized people there. Many went directly to vote early following the rally--and for those who were in line by 5:30 when polls closed--the lines continued until 10:30 before all were accommodated. The lines began again before dawn this morning. The 17 year old who was with us wishes that she were 18--so she could vote. I remember the line spoken by the geek in The Breakfast Club--explaining why he had a fake ID, "so I can vote." It's not just geeks anymore.

My daughter, who is 23 and has one presidential election behind her, is still dragging her feet about whether she will vote--her candidate didn't win the last time around. But not only her mom, but her friends are urging her to vote.

I get very emotional when I see this generation taking hold of the hope for change that so many of us lost back in the elections of 68 and 72. I enjoy that my local polling place is no longer a place that I can breeze in and breeze out of, but that there are many people from my local neighborhood making an effort because they finally believe that they can make a difference. I enjoy the camaraderie of standing in line.

I think that the next president, as did Lyndon Johnson, has far more than a full plate, of domestic and foreign policy problems to face. Iraq and the economy may well prove to be twin albotrosses around the neck of a one-term president. But this election, this is one that we will remember.

I came across your blog while looking for teacher bloggers for our Web site's blog at http://nssea.wordpress.com/. Very interesting piece about the election. And you're right; an interest from the younger generations has been provoked.

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