A Politically Inactive Campus

In the wonderful bubble that is the Claremont Colleges, it is easy to get wrapped up in all that goes on here - an outfit for the toga party, when tea at the Athenaeum will start, where to go abroad, how in the world to finish 200 pages of reading the night before a 9:35 class, and the list goes on. As we concentrate on the little and not-so-little aspects of our daily life, however, we often forget about the real world. Yes, we all have lofty post-graduation goals, but what about the here and now? Political apathy and inaction are far too rampant on our campus. When it comes down to it, very few of us, if any, are involved with politics. Think about it: no matter your major, politics will affect you. Science majors need government grants to fund research, Economics majors advise the Fed and influence budgetary decisions, English majors study how literature changed people’s behavior and thus their political concerns. And Government majors? Simply learning current events pales in comparison to the political work we could be doing. Why does involvement so often manifest itself as purely a summer internship?

As college students, we will be directly affected by Pell grants, the age extension for health insurance coverage, and changes in voter registration laws. Later in life, tax rates, block grants, social security, and more will greatly influence both our work and personal lives.

So what is stopping us from getting involved? Politics is messy and confusing, not to mention it often feels like we can’t make a difference. It also focused around gamesmanship. Connor Barclay (CMC ’13) explains, “I definitely care about politics, I just don't like them or ‘follow’ them.” But whether we like politics or not, politics changes how we live. Sam Stone (CMC ’14) chooses to be involved through his work at the Rose Institute. He sums up, “[Politics is] so irritating...but it matters.” Even though politics can be frustrating and exasperating, if we fail to get involved, we are giving up on ourselves and on what we care about. Barclay elaborates, “Sadly, I think many individuals in the business world, who would make excellent politicians, are turned off by the current state of political affairs.”

I challenge those who see politics as a hopeless game to try to change the system, not give up on it. And, for those enthralled with the political system, put yourself inside of it! This, of course, begs the question: can we actually make a difference?

The American government is massive. Politics involves so many players that even the smallest efforts can reach the right ears and make a difference. Stone believes, “if you put even a little time into [politics], you can have an impact.” Last week, in the special election for former Representative Weiner’s seat, a Republican won in a Democratic majority district, in part due to low voter turnout. If you are a Democrat, you could have made a difference by making calls to encourage stronger turnout within your party, simply by visiting a website. In addition to voting, representatives and senators care about what we have to say. This summer, my friend interned for a Congresswoman. She recounted to me how a constituent wrote in about a little-known law, so my friend researched the law and other staffers took a serious look at co-sponsoring the bill. Had the constituent not written in, the staffers wouldn’t have taken the time to research a potentially important bill.

Of course, not all petition-signing, phone-banking, and letter writing makes a difference. If we make an effort now, while we are in college, people will listen and we will get into the practice of staying engaged in politics and having a say. Young people are always applauded for any type of political action, no matter how small. If we grow accustomed to contacting our senators, lobbying when we visit Washington, DC (or our District office), or writing to our state congressperson, we will know what to do when we are in positions in or outside of the government where legislation directly affects us. By staying informed and getting involved, we set ourselves up to be more successful in the future.

Granted, there are many people on campus who are extremely involved. Andy Willis (CMC ’14) comments on the general political atmosphere on campus: “When we play Whittier in soccer, the cheers reference Nixon.” However, there is always more to be done. As Willis puts it, “political activism on campus isn't as strong as one would assume it could be.” We have so many resources, so much potential to get involved, and great opportunities to lay the groundwork for life-long political involvement. Join the College Democrats or the College Republicans, both of which will be significantly stepping up their political involvement this year. Or if that’s not your thing, track legislation related to an issue discussed in your community service club or visit congressional district offices to see what’s happening. I challenge you to take your political involvement to the next level, whether it’s spearheading a piece of local legislation or simply reading a daily newspaper. Politics will play a significant role in our lives regardless of our careers. We cannot afford to wait to get involved until after college and let politics play out without us. We are the future – if we don’t improve the political situation in Washington, who will?