September 4, 2008 Issue
Chestnut Hill Local
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On the campaign trail ‘08
I am 16 and I cannot vote. I spend my days thinking about grades, my friends and what TV shows I need to Tivo. And yet, the week before school started — with three summer reading books sitting on my desk and many of my friends home from camp — I “jetted” out to Denver for the Democratic National Convention.
The idea of spending my last “free” week sitting in lecture halls and hearing speeches all day and night baffled some. Actually, it baffled me. I wondered if maybe I had made the wrong choice. But arriving in Denver was like walking through the looking glass and into a world that was full of people just like me — and people like who I want to become.
To say that I want to be involved in politics when I grow up is a bit premature. I am fascinated by history, and the way I see it, you can either study history or make history, and there is no denying that this election has been historical. During the primaries I was not an Obama supporter or a Hillary supporter, but the atmosphere on the ground in Denver was thick with the possibility of change and the overwhelming sense of union in support of one man’s vision. I was swept up; I felt a high that I never have before and doubt I will ever feel it again. This was why I came to Denver. This is why I missed the last ceremonial week to say goodbye to summer. Change is happening and I wanted desperately to not just see it but to feel it run through me.
I went to Denver with about 250 other high school kids from all around the country, the territories and even three from France through the Junior Statesmen Foundation. The Junior Statesmen Foundation is a non-partisan group devoted to taking teenagers with political curiosities and giving them the chance to explore their interests. This group heard from many guest speakers during the convention. Many were young delegates or party officials who detailed how they got involved and let us know how we could get to be where they are today.
We were treated to one special guest speaker: George McGovern, a delegate and former senator from South Dakota who ran as the Democratic nominee for President in 1972 but lost horribly to Richard Nixon. Every speaker emphasized the necessity of involvement and that the best way to jumpstart your life is to just do it. Everyone in the Junior Statesmen Foundation group realized we were in good company — these were the people that wanted to change the world for the better.
Before the convention started, we spent a lot of time roaming the streets of downtown Denver on one of two quests: (1) credentials to get on the floor of the Pepsi Center that night and (2) the equally important perfect campaign button. At night, those of us who were not lucky enough to score credentials or passes into the convention, watched the speeches at an invitation-only DNC-sponsored watch party. The party was a few blocks away at the Denver Convention Center, which was filled with people who would stand on their feet every time something excited them and frequently chanted “Yes We Can!” But I wasn’t only a spectator at these parties and speeches. In addition to attending the Convention, I contributed daily to WHYY as a guest political blogger and NPR as a correspondent. Acting as a correspondent was not nearly as easy as I passed it off to be, allowing me to experience long nights a slave to my computer after even longer days and the stress of trying to find the appropriate phone on which to call in to do radio interviews. Being a correspondent really showed me how easy it is to become overwhelmed by a situation and the importance of drive and devotion in handling those situations. Drive is what motivated me to push through those hard-to-handle moments. It was the reason I was staying up so late blogging or running around looking for a It was the source of the adrenaline rush I got right after each interview and after every blog post.
More important than all of this, though were the great presentations and speakers. The best, in my opinion, were Michelle Obama and Bill Clinton. I had this notion that Michelle was a bit cold at times, but seeing her get on that stage with tears in her eyes after a touching video introduction, you could hear the compassion in her voice for her husband and for the principals of hope and change which their campaign stands on. She showed not only that Barrack Obama is a great human being but that she is ready to be the mother to this country.
Bill Clinton’s speech united the Democratic Party in a way that only he could and that certainly his wife Hillary did not do the night before. Throughout the whole campaign, people have been talking about how great things were before President Bush took office — in other words, during the Clinton administration — and when Bill went up there and said those same things, he spoke about them with authority and conviction in a way only someone who was responsible for such prosperity could. He threw his support firmly behind Obama and instructed Hillary’s supporters to do the same by inspiring Democrats to rally behind Obama’s stance of the issues that count and his ability to fix what Clinton called the two main problems of this decade: the decline of the American dream and the erosion of America’s reputation abroad.
But by far the best speech given at the convention was one not on the stage at the Pepsi Center but in front of an estimated 75,000 other people at Invesco Stadium on Thursday night. I was there.
That speech was the speech Barack Obama gave to accept his party’s nomination as a candidate for President of the United States, and it was by far the most inspiring thing I have ever heard. What really set it apart in my mind from any other speech was how when he acknowledged issues, they became the most important issues to both the audience as a whole AND the individual watching. He made his case in a way you could feel. I could feel his passion for what he believes in and his commitment to fulfilling the promises he makes.
I will never forget those minutes after Obama’s speech when in Invesco Field fireworks exploded all around us while the Obama and Biden families embraced each other on stage. It was those few minutes when I realized the difference between seeing the convention on TV and living the convention in person. I realized that the people at home could not feel how, with every exploded firework, my heart burst with excitement and awe for the political process going on around me; they could not feel the pit in the bottom of my stomach that compelled me to scream as loud as I could, as if that was what fueled the candidates to victory. I couldn’t help but think, “Now I will be able to tell my grandkids that I saw Obama on the night he made history.”
Being a part of the convention showed me the importance of involving the youth in the political process in a way that something on a local scale never could. The decisions politicians make today will be the decisions we will have to deal with tomorrow, so choosing the right person to make those decisions is the best thing we can do to ensure our future. What the convention showed me was how everyone’s lives around me had been shaped by their political views and their views of politics. Politics is a powerful thing, and seeing it up close and personal in one of its most intimate forms showed me that I wanted to tap into that power in a few years. I know how invaluable this past week has been and I am thankful to have been given this opportunity.
I am 16 and I cannot vote, but that does not mean I can’t be involved. My voice can still be heard.Lily Gold is a junior at Germantown Friends School. She lives in Mt. Airy.