Greatest Generation 2.0

The two main options for Wednesday morning seem to be: 1. sulk or 2. start building the movement that's going to save our country.

Many commentators, from Thomas Friedman on down the line, have written about the need for a Greatest Generation 2.0. But what would it look like? How do we begin to build it? When will know that our transformation from iPod-listening, hapless consumers to community-builder-nation-rescuers has taken place?

Other generations have been called into service by the President. Repeat after me: "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." Yet, while Obama called the country together during the election - "we're the ones we've been waiting for" - he left the public outside the gates of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Watching the White House scramble to fire up their base before Tuesday's election makes the last year's failure to speak directly to the American people all the more evident.

No, it looks like Greatest Generation 2.0 will have to come from the bottom up and from the outside in. As citizens worried about the direction our country is headed in and conscious of the interconnected challenges we face, it's going to be up to us to figure out how to come together once again around a common purpose.

So, in the spirit of oversimplification and broad generalization, here's the five step plan to firing up a new generation that can save our country (and the planet):

First, articulate a set of common values. Let's keep this short and simple: in America, we solve problems. We believe in freedom, equality, and a better future for our children. We know that our government was built "for the people and by the people," not for the corporations that have polluted our nation and corrupted our politicians. And we have a plan to fix our country: an Innovation Agenda centered on building a clean energy economy to create jobs and cut pollution; investing in our schools to train a new generation of scientists and engineers; and ending the corporate influence in Washington, DC that's holding our entire country back. 

Second, mobilize a movement around this vision. We'll need some passionate spokespeople to rally citizens around our vision. Writers and thinkers will articulate our common values. Economists, business leaders, and policymakers will debate how to achieve our goals. Artists and musicians will inspire us with their work. Community organizers will lay out a pathway for everyone to get involved. And step-by-step we'll build the sense of a growing swell, a wave that lifts all boats.

Third, get to work repairing our communities. Since we're about solving problems and getting to work, let's root this movement in our communities. We don't have the time to wait around for government or corporations to ride to the rescue, we're going to have to get this done ourselves. We'll give people clear ways to build a movement at the local level. Perhaps planting a Victory Garden volunteering at the local school, organizing a mass bike ride every month, raising money for a new job training center, and more. We'll tie these efforts together online, creating a sense of community and momentum.

Fourth, push back the corporations that have stolen our government. Politicians should be running in the opposite direction when a corporate lobbyist comes their way. We did it with Big Tobacco and we can do it again with Big Oil, Big Coal, and their cronies at the US Chamber of Commerce who are actively trying to beat back the clean energy economy and sound investments we know are necessary. Let's force every politician sign a pledge that they won't accept another dollar from an oil or coal company. We'll start local and build up to Congress. Sign up enough politicians, watch them get nervous about their re-elections, and campaign finance reform will be an easier pill for them to swallow.

Fifth, elect the politicians we need to help us speed up the changes we need to see. Change is going to come from the bottom up, but it's going to have to get implemented from the top down as well. Come Tuesday, there's going to be just two years until the 2012 election. Our movement is going to sweep that election in a major way. The local groups we've created across the country will put aside their hammers and shovels and pick up their clipboards and phones. Instead of putting into office corporate lap-dogs who deny basic physics and refuse to invest in our country's future, we're going to elect a new generation of politicians who understand the role government can play in helping spark innovation. Politicians who are committed to rebuilding America with a clean energy economy. Leaders who know that the best foreign policy is one that helps people, not bomb them. 

Simple, huh? Look, there's going to be no shortage of post-mortems and hand-wringing after the election on Tuesday. Our country is in a bad place at the moment and it's going to take a hell of a lot more work to get us back on the right track. Whoever told you hope and change were easy may have been trying to sell you something.

But, I still remember hearing "I Have a Dream" or Kind of Blue for the first time. I know what it's like to lose your breath at sunrise over New Mexico, all fire and space and possibility. I still ride the subway in Manhattan and revel in the sound and color of our diversity, hurtling together down the track.  And I try and feel that sense of possibility again, that uplift of a wave just as it begins to rise.

We're not going to fix the country because it's easy, we're going to do it because it's hard. Because as a nation, we may all be in need of a little redemption.

So on Wednesday morning, let's get started. Write, speak, and share. Get the discussion going. Look for those sparks that can grow and spread. Tell the organizers and activists you know to start working together, to start sharing ideas. Be ready for the wave as it comes. Hope is a verb, let's put it to work.