Many things about the remarkable campaign that made Barack Obama the first black president of the United States have been noted and commented upon, but an aspect that is particularly relevant to the Philippine political situation is the role played by the youth vote.
Obama himself spoke about this at the Youth Ball, one of 10 official balls held on the night of his inauguration. He thanked the legions of young Americans who worked to make sure that he became the 44th president of the United States. He said:
“I’ve been looking forward to this ball for quite some time because, when you look at the history of this campaign, what started out as an improbable journey when nobody gave us a chance was carried forward, was inspired by, was energized by young people all across America.
“I can’t tell you how many people have come to us and said, ‘I was kind of skeptical, but then my daughter—she wouldn’t budge. She told me I needed to vote for Obama.’ Suddenly I saw my son and he was out volunteering and getting involved like never before.’ And so a new generation inspired a previous generation and that’s how change happens in America.
“It doesn’t just happen in the election and campaign. It has happened in service all across America. As this is broadcast all around the world we know that young people everywhere are in the process of imagining something different than what has come before us: Where there is war they imagine peace. Where there is hunger they imagine people being able to feed themselves. Where there is bigotry they imagine togetherness. The future will be in your hands if you are able to sustain the kind of energy and focus you showed on this campaign.”
There have been many attempts to reform electoral politics in the Philippines but they have all fizzled out and failed. Various organizations have been formed and various movements have been started; prominent, progressive- thinking people have led these campaigns but they have failed to break the stranglehold of traditional politics on elections in the country. One big reason for this, perhaps, is the failure of these movements and organizations to harness the energy and idealism of the millions of young Filipinos.
In the United States, Obama, a former community organizer, saw the potential of the youth, harnessed them in his campaign, and thus made history and became the first black president of the country. Can’t we make a similar thing happen in the Philippines?
The old generation is already set in its ways; it will be very hard to change old habits and ways of thinking. The old political dynasties and families will continue to try to keep their political hold on the life of the nation so that they can continue to promote their selfish personal and familial interests.
The potential of the youth for change, and particularly for political and social change, has largely been untapped. Henrietta de Villa, chair of the National Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel), recently said the movement expected an increase of two million youth voters added to the estimated nine million who participated in the 2007 elections. She said that with young voters numbering 11 million, they could be a formidable bloc in 2010. About 13 million supposedly voted for Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in the 2004 presidential election. “If you have 10 million votes, you already have a base,” De Villa noted. “It would be difficult for your opponents to catch up.”
If a candidate gets the majority of the youth vote, he or she can win the presidency, De Villa said. “I’m telling the youth that they can install a president in Malacañang, if they vote responsibly and they vote as a group. In the United States, they were the swing vote. They really made a difference.”
But the work of the youth should not be limited to voting. They can conduct a voter education program, and, we hope, they can change the ways of thinking of some old voters. It will be a case of the young teaching and leading the old into new pathways that would improve the politics of the country. Many of them can campaign for progressive candidates who have the welfare of the nation at heart. All of them can vote for candidates who will bring about change in the Philippines.
Obama and his legions of young supporters showed that it could be done in America. Can’t we do the same in the Philippines?
CLAUDINE D CLARIDAD
Kabataan Kontra Kahirapan
(Youth Against Poverty)
Mobile No. +63917-8298766
Asia Policy Advocacy and Campaigns Support Officer
Asian South Pacific Bureau of Adult Education (ASPBAE)
Unit 14 Casal Building
15 Anonas Road, Barangay Quirino 3-A
Project 3, Quezon City 1102
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