The 2008 Democratic National Convention has been likened to a political Woodstock. It is an apt comparison in more ways than one. At the center of it all is Barack Obama, the consummate political rock-star playing to a sold out crowd in Mile High Stadium.
But Woodstock was more than just a concert, it was a cultural phenomenon that transformed – some would say defined - a generation. Woodstock was a coming of age, the rejection of the strictures and pretensions that came before and the creation of a new social and political order.
If that doesn't sound like the Democratic National Convention you've been watching at home, that's because you've been watching it at home. The dramatic stage with its towering video screens and exciting sweep of scaffold and light is but the apex of the Convention, the focal point of a choreographed, orchestrated, sponsored, and produced media event.
Surrounding it are the delegates, guests, and media. No less produced or choreographed, their cheers and enthusiasm are as real as their spontaneous coordination is an illusion. Still, with the show choreographed or otherwise, being inside the Hall is a heady experience. There is an electricity in the air here, a sense of history in the making.
Inside the hall is the rock concert. Outside is Woodstock.
The blocks of restaurants, businesses, and shops around Denver's Pepsi Center are thick with the vibrant political firebrands of an era – two eras actually. And while inside the Convention there is the sense of history, outside there is the sense of something larger, something at once rebellious and traditional as a new generation of Democrats comes of age.
Woodstock itself followed on the heels of assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. Kennedy, who was struck down by an assassin's bullet in 1968, played a similar role in youth politics as his modern political allegory, Barack Obama, does today.
Like Obama, the Kennedy brothers were a galvanizing influence in Democratic politics, but the generation that witnessed their call to arms is aging. Forty years after the apex of the sixties youth culture movement, the passage of time is evident in the face of the Democratic Party. Retirees far more-so than college students now dominate Democratic politics and the 18-25 demographic has among the lowest voter turnout in history.
A resurgence of the youth vote has been predicted and promised before. Kerry and Gore were both supposed to generate a massive spike in youth activism and both failed to meaningfully deliver anything out of the ordinary. That's left the Kennedy Generation dubious and doubtful of the commitment and tenacity of Barack Obama's younger supporters. Dubious, but not pessimistic.
I want to see them out in the trenches where I've been for years, said Linda Wyatt, a 60 year old Delegate from Virginia. Wyatt, who was 20 years old when Bobby Kennedy was gunned down, recalls the Kennedys as candidates apart:
they symbolized making the world a better place, she said
our parents provided security so our job was to make the world a better place.
Now, as their priorities shift from social activism to social security, the generation of Democrats baptized in the blood of the Kennedys is trying to pass the torch and, for the first time in a very long while, the youth of the Democratic party seem ready to take it. Even so, turning over the reigns does not come easily and many view Obama's candidacy with a sense of apprehension and cautious optimism. As Steve McGraw commented,
the average kid isn't politically involved but I'm hoping Obama is going to do it and fulfill that sense of responsibility.
Responsibility. Somehow, that word doesn't sound so strange from a flower child anymore.