The inauguration of President Kerry on January 20, 2005, will be the beginning of the global post-Bush era. As a young American, I would give President Kerry one central, and simple, piece of advice: Be a hero. His success at recasting the issues in a progressive light can only occur if he takes immediate hold of his mandate from the people and uses it boldly. And his election will be a mandate, no matter how narrow, because it will reflect how much America wants and needs to be reunited.
Young people in America want a hero. There is no challenge or dream too big for the idealism that comes with being young in America. Kerry must capitalize on the post-Bush exhaustion of being kept afraid. The war on terrorism needs to be fought, and fought vigorously; but it also must be rearticulated through the optimistic lenses of progressive vision, not brandished as a blunt instrument that keeps Americans suspended in a childlike state of fear. For starters, President Kerry should abolish the colored terror-alert system. Nobody knows what the colors mean, and those who do can't figure out what to do with what color. Kerry will need to send the clear message that while America may be out of the Bushes, it is not yet out of the woods. This message must be reassuring and firm, but sealed with a promise that he will never play on our fears.
On the domestic front, we need a real vision to close the gap between the haves and the have-nots. A message that addresses poverty in America always hits home with young people. Most of us have firsthand experience in what it's like to be poor, either working our way through college or struggling to make it in the job market. Far too many young people in America are without health care, and a federal budget that would allow state governments to extend these benefits would be a major first step in the right direction.
But again, to really get through to young people, Kerry needs to be bold. A poor people's campaign that would unveil an agenda to close the gap between rich and poor, create a robust middle class, and ensure that no one working full-time will be left without access to health care would strike a deep chord with many young people. Such a campaign must have all the characteristics of a grass-roots campaign.
Politicians put too much stock in television. To reach young people, President Kerry would need to take his message to the people. Much as Martin Luther King Jr. traveled the country to drum up support for his 1963 March On Washington, President Kerry could lend his imprimatur and authority to a March for a People's Agenda. A grass-roots campaign launched in targeted areas would help in getting Congress' attention and support, one member at a time. The potential to reset the tone in Washington, to rewrite the books on progressivism by having a massive grass-roots movement led by the commander in chief, would give America a chance to wrap its arms around principled progressive leadership.
The beginning of every progressive era is marked by a moment in time when someone special says or does something special to capture the hearts and minds of the doubting. I would advise President Kerry to create his own moment, not stumble across it. This idea may be called too daring, too risky, a near-impossible feat. Well, young people in America want a hero. John Kerry has the Purple Hearts to prove his courage, and demonstrating heroism is the way special people like John Kerry are called to live their lives.
Ashley D. Bell is the national president of the College Democrats of America and is currently a candidate for the Georgia Legislature.