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FEATURE

Choices for a Rising Generation

An essay by the 2008 Democratic Party Presidential Nominee.
Illustration by Joseph Adolphe

We are in a defining moment in our history. We're fighting two wars. Our planet is in peril. Our economy is in turmoil. And the dream that so many generations fought for feels as if it's slowly slipping away. 

Now, I know that the easiest thing in the world for young people to do is nothing at all. To turn off the TV, put down the newspaper, and walk away from the stories about Iraq or Darfur or the rising levels of joblessness and hopelessness in our own communities. To go about their busy lives, wishing these problems away, expecting someone else to solve them. To remain detached and indifferent.

But I hope they don't do what is easy — because sometimes, there are moments when what's truly risky is not to act. What's truly risky is to accept things as they are instead of working for what could be.

Taking action can mean getting involved politically. We've seen huge numbers of young people taking part in our campaign. They're knocking on doors and making phone calls and helping fight to bring about real change in this country.

But action can also happen outside the political arena. I was born the year that John F. Kennedy called a generation of Americans to ask their country what they could do. And I came of age at a time when they did it. They were the Peace Corps volunteers who won a generation of goodwill toward America. They were the teenagers and college students who knew it was probably safer to stay at home, but still decided to take the Freedom Rides down South. And because they did, they changed the world. And they inspired me, just out of college, to move to Chicago to help lift up neighborhoods that were devastated when the local steel plants closed.

So at this historic moment, we must ask our rising generation to serve their country as Americans always have — by working on a political campaign or joining the military, by doing community service or relief work abroad. Because that's how real change has always come — from ordinary people coming together to do extraordinary things; from all those, young and old, black, white, and brown, who were willing to do what was risky and what was hard and put their shoulders to the wheel of history, and turn it towards opportunity and equality and justice for all.