Pres. Clinton: Young People Must be More Informed

With knowledge comes power; so how does ignorance and misinformation impact a political system the majority of Americans view as broken? As former President Bill Clinton said this morning at the Campus Progress National Conference (CPNC) in Washington, D.C., “You cannot turn truth into power unless you have it in the first place.”

A thirst for truth is definitely not the problem facing the 1,400 young progressives who attended today’s conference. Instead, it is their job to spread information honestly. According to Clinton, “if you knew it and didn’t tell people, you’re part of the problem.” 

Our generation has come of age in frustrating political and economic times, but now more than ever, is the time to engage the system and mobilize passionate youth to counter the weight of corporate interests.

The question for CPNC — sponsored by Campus Progress, a campus outreach group through the liberal policy think tank, the Center for American Progress — is how to turn truth into power. Clinton said he left the presidency determined to answer the “how” questions; how to treat AIDS, how to curb climate change, and more. The answers to “how” are not easy or revolutionary. As always, this country needs a better education system and a more involved citizenry.

The road to empowerment — through honest education and grassroots campaigns — is daunting, thanks in part to the Supreme Court Citizens United decision favoring free speech for big business. A CPNC panel discussed the effect of this decision on the soft power of corporations, which tend to undermine what is good for the public. Lee Fang of the Center for American Progress blog Think Progress highlighted how the health insurance industry spent millions of dollars to kill health reform, and David Corn of Mother Jones called this influence “viruses in the media bloodstream.” The health care debates showed that misdirection alone derails tentative bipartisan agreements.

There are even more tangible, and hefty, prices of ignorance. Clinton said if 100% of students at the University of California, San Diego knew about the plethora of tax cuts they could be involved in, they could as a group save a collective $2.5 million.

Clinton highlighted education as the path to power. But, power really comes from caring. Not everyone cares about policy, but those who pay attention have the duty to mobilize, especially as the nation faces encroaching business interests. This is not a time for youth to be less engaged; like Clinton said, "It's very important in life not to just be against a tide you oppose but to make something good happen." Despite the difficult roadblocks ahead, for youth to gain influence in politics and elections, people must first care, learn, and mobilize.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Rebecca Leber

I'm a New York native, now in DC at the Center for American Progress. I was one of PolicyMic's first interns, and I consider both the online community and Harlem office to be smart, supportive places.

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