The rising influence of student activism

Larisa Manescu

Last week, in response to the introduction of anti-piracy bills SOPA and PIPA in late October, major websites such as Google, Wikipedia, and Reddit united in an Internet blackout to voice their opposition. This resistance was supported by the vast majority of the younger generation, raised with the Internet as a constant presence in their lives and demonstrates the collective political power of students, when their interest and passion is aroused. The threatening presence of SOPA and PIPA has agitated the political climate of our generation because young people recognize how the bills could affect their daily lives, and spread the message using social networking sites and protests.

However, this type of political activism in response to new legislation is not standard; typically, new legislation is met with little resentment because it rarely catches widespread exposure. The younger generation possesses the potential to hold a role in the passing of legislation by creating a stable and influential relationship with U.S. Senators and House Representatives, consistently bringing new bills into the spotlight to be reviewed, questioned and criticized.

Congress shouldn’t seem like a distant, unreachable force in a truly democratic nation. However, an individual must be familiar with current legislation before getting into contact with a Congress member to either support or oppose a bill. An easily-navigated website called states that its purpose is to “help the public research and track the activities in the U.S. Congress, promoting and innovating government transparency and civic education through novel uses of technology.”

Then, the easiest method of contact is through phone call, but it requires patience and conciseness. It may take a few minutes before an automated message gives way to a staff assistant or intern, at which point the caller should present the name of the legislation and the bill number and simply let it be known whether you are in support of or in opposition against the bill, and perhaps a brief reason. This information will be ultimately collected and tallied up. Another method is through written contact, either through e-mail or enveloped letters.

These methods, along with others such as Internet protests and the obvious blackout, were heavily utilized during the outrage over SOPA and PIPA, and they didn't go unnoticed. As a New York Times article published the day out the blackout reported, “Phone calls and e-mail messages poured in to Congressional offices against the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House and the Protect I.P. Act in the Senate. One by one, prominent backers of the bills dropped off.” Senators were responsive to the overwhelming surge of opinions headed their way, with many of them tweeting their renewed thoughts on the bills: “Thanks for all the calls, e-mails, and tweets. I will be opposing #SOPA and #PIPA,” tweeted Senator Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon.

Students were heavily involved in voicing their opinions and sharing methods of resistance to friends and family because of the relevance of the bills to their lives. However, the bills were introduced in late October and didn’t receive much attention until mid-January, proving that in order for students to become more informed on current legislation, they must be involved in independent research. If this pattern of self-informing and dedicated political activism continues past these two anti-piracy bills, the true potential of the younger generation's involvement in the nation's government can be recognized.

Manescu is a journalism and international relations freshman.