Barack Obama was carried to the White House on millions of young shoulders, like bodysurfing at a rock concert.
Polls estimate that 68 percent of those between 18 and 29 voted for Obama. And many more young people voted this year than in 2004, according to John Della Volpe at the Harvard Institute of Politics. "It looks like the highest turnout among young people we've ever had," Volpe says.
Obama's success wasn't accidental. He went out and earned it.
He appealed to young people and enlisted them in his campaign from the start. In the Iowa caucuses, he mobilized legions of young voters, and their efforts helped enormously in that pivotal victory.
Early on, his strategists also understood that they had to bring his campaign to young people. So they figured out how young people were communicating with one another, and they used these new technological channels: Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Twitter, Digg, LinkedIn, BlackPlanet, MiGente, AsianAve.
It was about giving young voters a chance to own part of the movement by letting them choose how to participate, how to get their friends to join and how to express their own individuality within a larger collective whose aim was to win the White House. It was important to make it personal.
On election night, in typical fashion, Obama sent a message to his loyal followers as he was headed to address the throngs gathered in Grant Park in Chicago. "I want to thank all of you who gave your time, talent and passion to this campaign. … But I want to be very clear about one thing. … All of this happened because of you. Thank you." The Obama campaign's innovative use of technology sets a high bar for future campaigns. The frequent e-mails, text messages, postings on social-networking sites and even embedded ads in video games resulted in an expansive following of millions who all felt Obama was having a personal conversation with each of them.
For instance, his Facebook profile lists 3.1 million supporters and 527,965 personal wall posts from well-wishers.
Obama's victory proves that young people do want to participate in the political process. We just have to talk to them in their own language, using the tools they use to stay connected to their friends.
Juleyka Lantigua is a writer for Progressive Media Project, 409 E. Main St., Madison, WI 53703; Web site: www.progressive.org.