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Obama's Youth Brigade

Yahya Yuksel, 14 at the time, was not convinced that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was justified.

His father had always been an involved Democrat, but Yuksel had refused to affiliate with any party--that is, until he realized the implications that Operation Iraqi Freedom could have on the United States, and more specifically, on his generation.

"I did not believe in it at all," Yuksel said. "I could see that it was going to be devastating to our economy and to our troops."

It was then that the young teen first called himself a Democrat.

On Sept. 27, Yuksel--now a UA freshman--will endorse Barack Obama on behalf of Teen Democrats, a group that he and Zak Lorenz started as high school students. Now a national organization, Teen Democrats will team up with the Pima County Democratic Party and several student organizations to host Generation Obama (G.O.) Tucson!

G.O. Tucson! will feature an array of bands, performances, speeches and activities--oh, and did we mention voter registration?

"The idea is to tap into youths' creativity and to give them an opportunity, an outlet, for their interest in this election and to express themselves however they wish," said Melanie Emerson, lead coordinator of the event.

According to Young Democrats of America, in 2004, there was a 9 percent increase in voters between the ages of 18 and 29 compared to 2000. In a recent poll, 69 percent of young people said that they are likely to vote in the '08 presidential election.

But G.O. Tucson! is not exclusively about voting, Emerson said.

"Voting is a very important piece of the election, but it's only one piece," Emerson said. "Our major goal is for youth civic engagement."

Emerson encourages youth, regardless of age, to partake in the political process. For those interested in grassroots campaigning (like canvassing or making phone calls), the Pima County Democratic Party and the Obama for America campaign will be presenting information and suggestions about getting involved.

"When people get active, it's because they realize the importance of the issues and how they'll affect their lives," said Geoff Esposito, a member of UA Young Democrats.

Esposito, a junior at the University of Arizona, said that like Yuksel, he started paying attention to politics during the 2004 election.

"One in five people is born into poverty in America," said Esposito. "That's just ridiculous for the wealthiest nation in the world."

Esposito has been a member of the UA Young Democrats for three years, and he said that this year, the number of participants has increased dramatically.

"I've seen people who have been completely apathetic to politics, those who harass me for being proactive, finally getting excited about a candidate," Esposito said. "I think they can be the margin of victory."

If you're looking to vote in the upcoming election, but have not yet registered, bipartisan groups like Rock the Vote and the League of Women Voters will be present at G.O. Tucson! to help.

Youth speakers from the Teen Democrats, the UA Young Democrats and Pima Students for Obama will address the crowd, as will Tucson City Councilmember Regina Romero. And that's just to name a few of the speakers.

The event includes performances by rock band AV, ska band Kool Shades and hip-hop group Ciphurphace.

"The goal is to have performances that reflect the youth and their interests," Emerson said.

The diverse lineup of performances will also feature acts from an African-Brazilian martial arts group and an African dance and drumming organization. Even the Tucson High Step Team will take the stage.

While Obama himself will not be present, events such as Obama and Me--where you can take a picture with a cardboard cutout of the "change" candidate--will allow participants to fool friends.

With G.O. Tucson! taking place just days before the voter-registration deadline, Yuksel hopes that students will register, stay fired up and vote in unprecedented numbers on Election Day.

"We are a huge population," Yuksel said. "It's time we had a voice."

The Generation Obama Tucson! Music and Arts Festival takes place from 3 to 7 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 27, at Armory Park, 220 S. Sixth Ave. The event is free and open to the public. For more information about G.O Tucson!, visit the Festival Web site. For additional questions, contact Melanie Emerson at 904-2220 or by e-mail.

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