“Yes we can! Yes we can!” Four years later, I heard these words being sung out by a select few students in front of the Michigan Union as they waited in line for tickets to see President Barack Obama speak on campus last friday. As the small group of students — 5 or so — continued their attempt at getting the political chant going, they looked around and quickly realized that it simply wasn’t working. The previously over-used catchphrase wasn’t igniting their peers like it once did.
Instead, the couple hundred students standing in that particular segment of the line had uneasy looks on their faces as they listened to the chant. They seemed afraid of yelling those three infamous words. Even I, someone who used to sing this battle cry to anyone who would listen, felt like it just wasn’t the same. The students who were yelling eventually realized that they weren’t in 2008 anymore and fell quiet.
Last week, University students were confronted with a once in a lifetime opportunity — to see the president speak in person. Thousands of us waited outside in bone-chilling temperatures all night outside of the Union just to get a ticket. Even those who didn’t wait in line were anxious to see Obama. Some reported scalping their ticket for as much as $150. Needless to say, once we were able to actually see Obama speak, the electricity in Al Glick Field House was undeniable.
Standing 20 feet away from the leader of the free world, I felt that same rush that I had in 2008. I felt like I was part of something bigger than myself and perhaps real change was on the horizon.
Thinking my friends felt the same way, I asked them if they were going to get involved in the 2012 campaign. One of my friends, a fellow applicant to the Ford School of Public Policy and someone who I consider one of my more politically-aware peers, sheepishly replied , “I don’t think I am going to be able to vote for Obama. He has just done too many things that I just can’t agree with.”
“Really,” I said in disbelief, “You’re such a liberal-minded person. Why are you even waiting in line right now?” She explained to me that Obama hadn’t lived up to his word from 2008 and that she was waiting only because of the honor of being able to see the President speak.
Shocked by my friend’s response, I asked others their feelings about this topic. Almost all of them agreed that along with not volunteering in the 2012 campaign, they were just there for the experience of seeing the president and weren’t even planning on voting for him.
How did this happen? How did so many of the very people that helped catapult an unlikely candidate, the African-American senator from Illinois, into the presidency suddenly not care about the election? In 2008, Obama promised change and a future different from the status quo — a difficult promise to live up to. Unfortunately, people aren’t satisfied with how it has been fulfilled.
“So what now?” I asked my peers. “Are you just going to vote for whoever the Republican nominee is?”
“Oh, God no!” most of them responded. Almost all of my friends who once supported Obama aren’t switching sides — they simply aren’t voting at all. A generation at the forefront of political involvement in 2008, will once again go unheard in 2012.
But, there is hope for Democrats — especially those who fear Obama may lose his re-election bid. Though America’s youth isn’t supporting Obama right now, at least they’re not supporting the alternative. The night that thousands of students waited outside to hear Obama speak, the Republican presidential candidates had another debate. As usual, nothing came of it. Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich just tore each other apart, trying to convince countless Americans that neither was fit to be commander in chief.
America’s youth may not be willing to rally behind Obama just yet. But, as the Republican presidential candidates continue their circus and avoid working towards actual solutions, America’s youth will slowly realize that Obama is better than the alternative.
It may be a little premature to start the “Yes we can” chants, but with a little more encouragement, the faint murmur heard outside of the Union may once again turn into a mighty political voice.
Patrick Maillet is an LSA Sophomore.