The Youth Movement that Remade America.
The true story of when a group of Connecticut twenty-somethings formed a club that went viral, elected a President, started a war, and changed the world. The Wide Awakes is a story about a new generation seizing power and pushing us forward. This is the dangerous marriage of evangelical passion with American gangs, as seen through the eyes of the young radicals who built a movement no one could contain.
Young voters in 1860 were much like Gen-Z of today: they were the least racist voters in the electorate, the most scientifically educated, and the most economically progressive. Essentially, in 1860, the Republican Party became the home of America’s woke youth thanks to these few Hartford church boys who succeeded in pushing the Party to the left.
The organization eventually boasted over 100,000 members and 2,000 chapters, but the heart of this narrative is centered around the founders; a small group of 20-somethings who knew each other from their Hartford church group.
Scholarship on the Wide Awakes is shockingly sparse, but leaning on the few researchers who have thankfully written about this militantly liberal activist political club, and delving into the social network of Hartford’s civic and religious communities which forged the core of the original Wide Awakes, we can now piece together a personal narrative of the club from its beginnings, revealing one of those rare moments in America when a handful of young people actually changed the course of history.
Young voter mobilization was my first area of expertise in politics. As a political communications strategist I began using new media and social meet-ups to spread a decentralized network organization called “Drinking Liberally” into all 50 states. I worked with organizations that mobilized young voters such as “Music for America” and “Music for Democracy.” Similarly, I went with a group called “VoteMob” to Ohio where we registered young voters in coffee shops, college campuses, and comic book stores. So much of this was powered by first-generation internet tools such as Friendster and MySpace that I was awarded an activist research fellowship with “Credo Action” where I began working on phone and text-enabled voter mobilization techniques and technology. These innovations have been used in every Presidential election since 2008. I was a teaching fellow with Norman Lear’s youth activism training center “Young People For.” I wrote young voter strategy essays for a community of fellow youth vote thought-leaders called “Future Majority.” Like these characters, I grew up in a small New England town and I also set out to change the world. And like me, their efforts brought them something they didn’t expect.