Nearly 11 months ago, before a crowd of 1.8 million people, Barack Obama became President of the United States. On that cold, blustery January day President Obama lit a fire in the American spirit. Calling out to the largest audience in inaugural history, and to all the people across America watching their television screens flicker, he said, “The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.”
The promise of those big words echoed in the hearts and minds of an entire generation of youth, and in particular spoke to Jayan Kalathil and Melissa Bolton-Klinger. Obama’s campaign and inaugural address so affected the two co-workers that they found themselves wanting to be the change he so passionately described-and the result is their book, released on November 4, the anniversary of his election, Generation Change: 150 Ways We Can Change Ourselves, Our Country, and Our World.
“Both of us noticed how many young people were getting involved. [Obama] electrified a group of people who don’t get involved in politics as much as they should,” explained Kalanthil. “He harnessed and utilized the technology people used, and he reached people using the media they used on a day-to-day basis.”
Kalathil and Bolton-Klinger decided to explore the potential and power of this new generation, which they called “generation change.” Together, they sat in coffee houses throughout New York City, brainstorming easy ways for young activists to get active. Around 300 ideas later, they had buckets overflowing with friendly inspiration. And after cutting those ideas in half, they had a book.
“We wanted to write a book that tackled a range of issues, that was very simple and easy and fun. Fighting AIDS, championing clean water, supporting our veterans when they come home, or even small knick-knacks that don’t take too much effort to do: like just trying to be a better friend or neighbor. It doesn’t have to be a big giant issue, it can be whatever appeals to you,” said Kalathil.
As its title implies, the book is split up into three sections, first focusing on improving oneself at an individual level, and then branching out to include the country and world around you, all with the goal of “giving people tangible ways of getting involved in whatever ideas or causes might interest them,” said Kalathil.
Some ideas are as simple as “laugh and smile more,” while others provide detailed, relevant advice on how to use “Twitter and instant messaging for good.” Bolton-Klinger and Kalathil also smartly recognized that people consume information through a fragmented variety of mediums, and thus each tip is accompanied by at least one other source to further explore an idea or cause, via website, film, books, etc. In this way the book is just a jumping-off point for countless other ways to do good. Kalathil even suggests that the “best ideas won’t come from the book.”
Before moving to New York to work in public affairs, Kalathil grew up in San Luis Obispo and graduated from UCSB. Spending his college years in Santa Barbara, Kalathil “spent a lot of time near the beach, hanging out at Sands, and going running out at the cliffs past the end of Del Playa Drive.” Spending time in nature inspired Kalathil to focus on taking care of the environment, a cause that shines through in the final chapter of the book.
All the book’s ideas are great, simple, and easy to read and understand, if not always earth-shattering. The book is casual, non-partisan, and reads more like a friend’s blog than a didactic or self-righteous self-help book. But what’s most important for Kalathil is that readers remember the world gets smaller as technology spreads. “I think when we hear about issues that take place far away outside of America, it’s easy to think it doesn’t really affect us, or it affects people we don’t relate to. But with today’s technology and how we’re all becoming more connected, all these issues do have an impact on us at home:Today, we have the tools to be able to make a difference. Ten or 15 years ago people didn’t have the same level of connectivity.”
So come on, generation change! We’ve got the tools, the means, the motive, and now we’ve got some groovy ideas to get started, because the times they are a-changing, and we’re the ones doing it.
Generation Change: 150 Ways We Can Change Ourselves, Our Country, and Our World can be ordered through Skyhorse Publishing.