Raise your hand if you were of voting age in 1994. Everyone else, you may want a peek into a history book before reading this post.
For those of us who remember 1994, let me set the stage for you. Clinton's health care scheme had gone down in flames, but many of us still thought we could have a shot at doing decent things through his Administration. "Here Come the Hotstepper" topped the charts. Forrest Gump made a katrillion dollars. Arkansas won the NCAA championship. OJ got arrested, after his infamous Ride of the White Bronco.
In 1994, I was 26 years old, and I ran a sizable door-knocking operation for a progressive non-profit organization in California. About three months before the election, our organization's PAC donated staff (including landisdad) to a variety of Congressional campaigns. We recruited tons of our members to volunteer. Our whole staff took the day off on Election Day to volunteer for political campaigns–some working to oppose Prop. 187, some supporting various Congressional candidates, some on local ballot measures.
And we lost. Everything. The Gingrich revolution swept the land, and the forces of tyranny and repression that continue today were victorious.
The day after Election Day, nearly my entire staff called out of work, but I knew that I couldn't. I knew that I was going to have to go in and do some version of the anger, hope and a plan rap to get people riled up, but I had no idea what I would say, or how I would motivate my staff when I was so incredibly depressed and angry myself. I got to my office, and I commiserated with the director, and some of the other senior managers of the organization about how awful I felt, and how none of us knew what to say. We were standing in the financial office, when suddenly we heard chanting coming up the street.
I looked out the window, and I saw a stream of high school students, filling Mission Boulevard. Kids who had walked out of school to protest against the 187 vote, because they hadn't been able to vote, hadn't been able to have their voices heard about who deserved to go to school or get health care. In the days before widespread cell phone use, these kids had organized with pagers, and passing notes, to simultaneously walk out of high schools all over the city.
It gave me hope.
It gave me something to tell my staff–that they, who were adults (although we were all so blisteringly young–some of my staff had just voted in their very first elections) couldn't lose faith, when those students hadn't lost faith, that something they did, that we did, could make a difference.
I've thought of those kids often, over my organizing career. They have inspired me, when I needed inspiration.
I've been thinking of them recently, with the student walkouts that are going on all over the country against the Sensenbrenner bill and supporting comprehensive immigration reform. I posted last month about un dia sin–a day without an immigrant–and since then, there have been massive demonstrations in cities around the country on this issue. Next Monday, when I join millions of Americans at rallies supporting the right of undocumented workers to earn citizenship in this country, I'll be thinking of them again.