Summer 2009 Issue »
T-Shirts, Key Chains, and Civic Duty
11th grade, Andover High School, Andover, Massachusetts
Barack Obama’s candidacy was one of hope, inspiration, and, of course, change. The incredible rhetoric and messianic quality of his campaign produced visions of activism sweeping the nation.
Early on, even before the Iowa caucuses, I was hard at work spreading Barack Obama’s message of change. My education was already moving from the classroom to the campaign trail. I avidly researched the issues and was armed with information to persuade potential voters. I phone-banked, I held picket signs in the cold, and I canvassed door-to-door.
It appeared as though the apathy that had consumed this nation for so long was about to be swept away by throngs of inspired youthful activists. Across the nation, enormous rallies were reported and youthful activism was thrusting Barack Obama onto the national stage. I waited for this change to flood across suburban Massachusetts, to change the way the students at my school felt about their nation. But it never came. The primaries passed and still there was little evidence of our nation’s redemption. However, as the general election approached, Barack Obama’s message finally reached the students of
Andover High School.
“Activism” didn’t reach my school in the form of sweat and hard work—it came for the most part in the form of overpriced merchandise, key chains, t-shirts, hats, and pins. The emotion and passion of the election culminated in cheap, plastic novelties and fashion accessories.
But perhaps authentic, youthful enthusiasm could be found out on the political frontlines that I knew so well, in the phone banks, picket lines and heavily canvassed neighborhoods. I searched there as well, to find the same group of dedicated elderly dialing away, the same group of enthusiastic political science majors holding picket signs out in the cold, and the same eager canvassers prowling New Hampshire’s quiet streets.
I had hoped that this election would transform my school into a place of political involvement and discussion. Did I expect too much? I did learn a lesson: despite the largely commercial effect the election had on the majority of students, it educated those of us who were truly interested. The names and dates in my history textbooks were given new life and the fierce discussions at debate team felt relevant. My interest in politics was given an avenue in the form of volunteering and my experiences on the campaign will have influenced the major I will seek in college.
Now that the election is over, I am left with contradictory feelings of idealism and cynicism, but ultimately with optimistic realism. It is this attitude that will affect my education, how I view the knowledge I am given, and my ongoing reassessment of civic duty. Barack Obama’s presidency will enrich the education of the enthusiastic few and will leave the majority with improved education policy and funding, a collection of novelty hats, and perhaps the inklings of civic responsibility.