One of my earliest memories of politics was Barack Obama’s Speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention—or rather my mom’s reaction to his speech that July. I can remember her repeating his iconic phrase
“There is not a liberal America or a conservative America
but the United States of America”
over and over again that entire summer. She and my father would canvass the neighborhood to get others to register to vote, take us with them to the Pima County Democratic Headquarters to phone bank, and of course that was the start of the never-ending news cycle taking precedence over our weeknight cartoons. As a nine-year-old it was lost on me what kind of impact seeing a man like Obama thrust upon such a large platform, but my parents made sure I understood to look at that man, because “that’s the future of America right there”.
Rewinding for a while my mother is the child of a founding father for Somalia, my maternal grandfather was one of the first men to graduate from a university in the United Kingdom; returning to Somalia with big dreams of uniting the country and achieving independence from the British. He was an ambassador for his motherland, and as a result she was born in Germany and my aunts and uncles lived a large portion of their childhood in London. Eventually she needed to take the leap that her older cousins have made and immigrate to America. Like so many others, education was the only real pathway to success, and she devoted her teenage years to excelling in school, eventually going to college and majoring in Political Science.
My parents shared that journey although they started in different locations. After college they met and moved around the east coast, eventually getting married, having my older brother, and moving to Arizona so my dad could get his PhD. Their lives are similar to so many other immigrants who arrived in this country throughout the 70s and 80s. A land of opportunity that presented them just that—the chance to succeed and a means to thrive through education. Seeing Obama on that stage in 2004 was in essence seeing what the son of an immigrant from East Africa can accomplish in America. They weren’t just seeing themselves for the first time, but seeing what was in store for their children as well. In retrospect, I can see why that election sent my parents into political overdrive.
I remember my dad pulling my sister and I out of school (for the one and only time) to go see one of Obama’s rallies in Phoenix. Making the unique sacrifice of education for a greater cause; although we had to do our math homework on 2hour drive. My parents campaigned harder than ever, my mom read countless blogs all day keeping up to date on every facet of the election and eventually our entire family huddled around the television all day to witness Obama’s first win in 2008. Being the only Black house in our neighborhood, with most of our neighbors as openly Republican that night was euphoric, jumping on couches, running around the house, driving back to campus and cars were driving on the wrong side of the road. It was a culturally significant moment for the world.
My first engagement in politics was around the 2012 election. As a senior in high school, a 17-year-old unable to vote I made it a mission to make sure as many others could as possible. Our small team of seniors spent weekdays at the phones in the PCDHQ and weekends canvassing votes door to door; eventually the Obama campaign started sending teams of volunteers to swing states and our small group got the call to drive up to Las Vegas for the weekend just before the general election. It was an incredible feeling back then; everyone was rallying together around 2 simple words “Hope” and “Change”. Wherever we went to organize the groups were diverse and lively; since this was the time I started to become more and more perceptive of race and politics, it meant a lot for me to not stick out like a sore thumb.
That Tuesday Las Vegas turned blue, Obama won a second term and all of our hard work felt affirmed! After graduation I took my gap year abroad, only keeping up with the news based off Aljazeera and BBC updates. It was beyond fascinating to see and hear unbiased reporting based only on facts, a small peek at the US from the rest of the world’s point of view. A few months after coming back Mike Brown was killed, resulting in a major shift of my worldview. I saw how quickly every media outlet moved to paint him as an unstoppable beast that had to be put down, while his 18-year-old body baked on the asphalt under a tarp for hours before being put in an unmarked van. I had to desperately search for some kind of recognition that this was a human life unnecessarily taken far too soon. I could see the same disruption in my parents as well, the same news outlets they trusted since 2004 made decisions that put that trust in jeopardy. That’s when I stopped watching news on TV and outsourced that information to a collection of politically minded blogs on the internet run by millennials my age.
A lot has changed since the 43-year-old Senator Barack stood on that stage in Boston. I began to realize my homeland, Somalia, was being bombed into oblivion along with most of the middle east, drone strikes increasing 10-fold during Obama’s administration (563 strikes compared to 57 by Bush). Engaging with a diverse group of politically active classmates and friends in activist circles from college helped me understand that 3 million immigrants were deported or put in detention facilities from 2008-2016. Although much of it is complex, in one term alone a democratic president deported more immigrants than a republican one. While the Trump administration has found new abhorrent ways to put young lives around the world at further risk, many of the tools he is using have been used frequently by every president before him; and likely will continue to be used after his term is over.
In the past four years, my parents and I began to diverge politically and especially this year it’s been difficult to have that conversation. All of the tension in our house surrounds one name “Bernie”, my parents have much disdain for how his campaign was run in 2016 and can’t find anything redeeming about him; and by association, any of his policies. He’s a lone wolf in his party, nobody likes him, his ideas aren’t realistic. Although much of what I believe to be true is completely different to that, it points to how our ideals are a reflection of the media we consume. You can be as skeptical as you want but you can only process whatever information you are given, you are what you eat read.
In my life, college debt increased astronomically and the prospect that a bachelor’s degree would land a better, more secure job for our generation was revealed to be a lie. All of the major financial milestones (car, house, family) associated with the American dream are completely inaccessible to us. Healthcare or lack thereof is a pivotal marker for my peers, either hanging onto our parents plan for a few more years or (in most cases) having no plan at all. In both situations, none of us can truly afford a medical emergency without increasing the already massive amount of debt we have.
The economy has had 2 once-in-a-lifetime recessions in 12 years, the globe is on the verge of literal collapse, racial injustice is more visible and gut-wrenching than ever, and islamophobia is eternally on the rise.
The America that welcomed my parents as teenagers and provided them a wonderful life (under mostly republican administrations) in complete honesty DOES NOT EXIST.
With all of these implications, the Democratic Party has shifted from “change” to a “return to normalcy” from “hope” to “electability”. Marginalized Americans (particularly millennials) have been taken for granted while the party overtly caters to the conservative voters that may or may not vote for Trump again. They lean on the fact that they don’t need to provide widespread change, just enough to make concerned (white) republicans more comfortable.
It’s a gamble in every sense of the word because millennials are not children anymore, at the youngest they are in their early 20s, witnessing a concerted effort by the DNC to ignore advocates for substantial reform, disregard the overwhelming evidence that there is a ticking clock on climate change before irreparable damage is done to the earth, and silence survivors of sexual assault in order to make America “normal” again. We have seen congress habitually resist change or bipartisanship for over a decade, leading to the first impeached president to finish their term and run for another one. The “youth vote” is taken for granted, while millennials are increasingly shifting towards not voting whatsoever, abandoning a system that never served them in the first place.
The “radical left” defined by universal healthcare, livable wages, renewable energy—and yes, nationalized services funded by tax dollars—have been seen as a bridge too far for the previous generation so they are doing what every generation has done before. Leave it for somebody else to fix. Desperate times call for desperate measures, this country has not faced as many problems (foreign or domestic) as it does today, and our government has made its decision. Like we have our entire lives millennials are forced to wait and see; but this time, we do it knowing that we could have had so much more. That a country clinging to the past is not prepared for what the future has in store. That in many ways we’ve already run out of time.