Politics & Policy

Mile High Youth for Obama

In the cheap seats with the voters of the future.

Denver – Invesco Field at Mile High is, of course, a mile high. If you climb up to the top of Level 5, to the tippy-top of the nosebleeds, you’ll be a few hundred feet higher. And if you have a few beers, or perhaps smoke a little something, you’ll be higher still.

And that is how I run into Brooke, Nouri, and Dave, three 20-somethings waiting to see Barack Obama accept the presidential nomination of the Democratic party. Up at the very top of the grandstands, there are a few hundred empty seats; even Obama can’t fill every spot in the house. These seats face directly west, and the sun is beating down pretty hard; people are using their blue Obama CHANGE signs to shield themselves. Brooke, on the other hand, is loving it, and she has taken off her tank top to reveal a fairly skimpy black bra.

As Sheryl Crow finishes up a set of songs down on the 50-yard line, I ask why they climbed all the way up here. “My rationale eludes me now,” says Brooke, slurring her words ever so slightly. “However, there is a great view of the Rocky Mountains to the west. I sit here soaking in the sun. I have no shirt on.” Pause. “This is a good day.”

Brooke, who lives in Denver, is 24 and works in a local arts program. Dave, 23, lives in Connecticut, and isn’t doing a lot now. “I was recently working in an organic lettuce farm in Hawaii, and after that I was a camp counselor, and I’m currently unemployed,” he tells me. Nouri, 22, lives in New York and works for a documentary filmmaker — he’s here tonight as part of a project “making movies about protests and questioning the validity of both the convention and protesting and trying to find a place in that dynamic.” The three of them met when they were students at Wesleyan.

They all admire Obama and very much want him to become president. If that happens, I ask, what would they like to see him do?

“Tangibly?” asks Brooke.

“Well, yes — tangibly.”

“I just think that he has the capacity to really rally people together in a way that I haven’t seen before,” she says. “The other day, I went to the Denver Coliseum to see Rage Against the Machine and the Flobots. And I was astounded by their ability to musically rally a large amount of people towards peaceful protest. There was an amazing march that ensued after the concert; it was unbelievably peaceful and rule-y, as opposed to unruly, but focused and determined, and I feel that on a more general level I would love to see Barack rally a large amount of people, a very large amount of people, all together.”

“Rally them to do anything in particular?” I ask.

 Brooke pauses for quite a while. “Well, build morale. Build a sense of empowerment.”

I ask about John McCain.

“Boo!” says Nouri. “He’s a warmongering, oblivious, ill-informed, bought-out politician.”

“Actually, I’d say he’d be a belly itcher and not a pitcher,” Brooke says. “And we would like a pitcher and not a belly itcher.”

The three break into giggles. “We want a pitcher, not a belly itcher!” then begin to chant. “We want a batter, not a broken ladder!”

“McCain’s a broken ladder,” Brooke tells me.

I ask whether they will all really vote for Obama — that is, will they actually show up at the polls on Election Day. They won’t just skip it, will they?

“No way, we’ll be there,” says Dave. Everybody agrees.

Did they vote in 2004?

Yes, says Brooke. She pauses again. “I might have voted for Ralph Nader.” I couldn’t tell whether she was a little sheepish about that or couldn’t actually recall who she voted for.

“I didn’t receive my absentee ballot, along with a lot of other college students,” says Nouri.

Dave says nothing.

And on and on. Some Obama partisans will no doubt say that finding three slightly crocked 20-somethings in the top row of Invesco Field at Mile High says nothing about the Obama phenomenon. It’s easy pickings, low-hanging fruit, shooting fish in a barrel. But the question of whether Obama’s youthful enthusiasts will actually vote is one of the key questions of this campaign.

A recent poll conducted by the Harvard University Institute of Politics showed Obama with a 55 percent to 32 percent lead over John McCain among voters aged 18 to 24. Among those in that group who have graduated from a four-year college, people like Brooke, Nouri, and Dave, Obama leads 57 percent to 25 percent. Sixty-three percent of college graduates in that group say they will definitely vote on Election Day.

But they won’t, of course. And middle-age and older people, who happen to support McCain at significantly higher levels, will.

Back in January, when the Democratic primary race was still going hot and heavy, Time magazine published a story headlined “The Year of the Youth Vote.” “Will the youthful ranks of Obama’s movement grow virally as the election goes national?” the magazine asked. Hopeful Democrats would say yes. And that might indeed happen on November 4. But hang out with the youthful ranks of Obama’s supporters, and you just can’t tell.

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