Author: Anahid Yahjian
Over 1,000 people rose to give former President Bill Clinton a standing ovation as he stepped onto the stage of UCLA’s Royce Hall Saturday, November 3 to close the American Democracy Institute’s (ADI) Empower Change Summit.
An all-day event, the summit aimed to inspire young citizens to play a proactive role in the betterment of the world through workshops that give them the tools to “empower change;” areas covered included “Making Change Your Career,” “Voter Engagement,” “Empowering Change Through Film,” and “Ecology, Economy & Equity: Transforming Education.”
Clinton was invited to speak at the event by ADI’s CEO John Hart, who founded the organization after serving on Clinton’s staff during his presidency in the 90s. Hart was very enthusiastic about the summit, emphasizing that it was all about the youth.
“Young people do drive political change,” Hart said. He compared the “millennial” generation to his own “baby boomers,” insisting that though 70s youth accomplished a lot—such as protesting the Vietnam war—the current crop of young Americans are also “very solution-driven.”
ADI’s internet strategist Gary Nuzzi pointed out that contemporary youth were “born with a keyboard in hand,” and have a hard time figuring out how to make their ideas for change into realities. He used Facebook as an example of how young people join groups to show their interest in various political issues and causes-the problem, however, arises when they aren’t sure what the next step is. ADI created workshops as that “the next step,” with follow-up workshops to be announced in the future.
“This generation doesn’t get enough credit,” Hart said. “I think they will change the political nature of this country . . . not with protests, but through charm and grace.”
With over 3,000 registered attendees primarily aged 16-25, the free event was labeled as a success from the get-go, much like previous events held in Chicago and Philadelphia. Hart felt that the open entrance fee as well as diverse crowd set the summit apart from other similar organized events.
In addition to the workshops, several booths were set up on the grass of Wilson Plaza outside Royce Hall; organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, radio station Power 106—whose jockey Wendy Carillo acted as emcee during the opening plenary—were present. The Save Darfur Coalition and TOMS shoes—who gives one pair of shoes to a child from a third-world country for every pair sold—gave out flyers as well as wristbands, water bottles and candy to the crowd.
Clinton was slated to speak after the afternoon workshops, and after a much anticipated wait he delivered a speech that focused on encouraging the young audience to “change the definition of being a good citizen,” fight global warming and vote intelligently in the upcoming elections.
He spoke of the success of the Kyoto protocol in countries such as China and Russia and emphasized the importance of having the U.S. ratify it. Introduced in 1997 by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and currently ratified by over 160 countries, the treaty aims to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases in an effort to prevent drastic climate change in the future. The U.S. has yet to ratify the treaty and President George Bush has not expressed plans to do so in the near future.
Clinton reiterated Hart’s point about young people’s potential to cause change, citing the electoral process as the first and, therefore, most important step towards achieving it. He expressed wonderment as to why any young American would not want to vote, for they have “more tomorrows than yesterdays than older people do.”
He urged the audience to get out and vote next November, saying it was their chance to elect a leader they felt would aid in facilitating change. “Don’t let this turn into a ten-second deal,” he said. He advised the crowd to vote based on the country’s most pressing issues, citing the problem of the U.S. “borrowing money from other countries to start wars” as taking precedent over the current debate over illegal immigration.
Though he joked about his own “personal preference” as to who should be the next president—a reference to his wife, Hilary—Clinton reminded the audience to be thorough and serious in their decision, for this would be their chance to make a difference.
“Make sure this election is not taken away from you by triviality,” he said.
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