Students should keep activism local

Ryan Young

My fellow columnist Elizabeth Braaten wrote several weeks ago that as college students, we’re good at making a scene about issues we care about. We’re passionate and interested in social justice, and we’re not afraid to voice our opinions on social media. Unfortunately, we usually stop there — we’re “slacktivists.” Why? Maybe because it feels futile to try to save the entire country.

In the age of Trump and fake news, it’s easy to get riled up about the latest national dumpster fire — be it football and the national anthem, gun control, bathroom bills or UNESCO — as the endless Facebook battles and Daily Texan columns attest to, with all due respect to my colleagues. But folks, let’s face it: Our complaints are drops in the bucket. There are more than 320 million Americans, and we’re governed by a labyrinthine federal government.

Are tweets and Capitol protests going to convince Congress to repeal that legislation or the president to do a 180 on foreign policy? Probably not. But you can make a difference by turning toward your local community — your city, Austin.

In many ways, city politics have a bigger impact on our lives than national politics. Think of the services you depend on everyday: police protection, the library system, public parks and roads and bridges. Do you ever think about the people responsible for designing, administering and running those systems? I can tell you they don’t work for President Donald Trump.

Unlike the behemoth that is the federal government, the city of Austin is beholden to us. It’s responsive to our day-to-day concerns. City planning isn’t top-down, but bottom-up. Elected officials and administrators regularly talk to residents to understand their needs and desires — that’s how they get the information they need to make decisions that govern the services we use every day.

When we get off social media and talk to our city council members, we get real progress, such as the proposed renaming of Austin’s Robert E. Lee Road.

And right now, the city is asking for our help. Know of any spots in West Campus that are a little too dark for comfort? The city wants to hear about them. You can help them out by responding to their lighting survey, which will guide future improvements, such as more streetlights and safer pedestrian crosswalks.

You can also make your voice heard by taking the city’s Corridor Mobility Program survey. Remember that billion-dollar mobility bond we voted on last year? The city is just now beginning the public input process that will determine how all that money will be spent. If you’ve ever been nearly run over crossing the street or riding a bicycle, speak up and let the city know that students need safer routes to class. Think more bike lanes, wider sidewalks and safer pedestrian crossings on big streets like the Drag.

You might be wondering why you should bother if these projects are years away for a community you’ll probably have no stake in. But by becoming more informed and engaged citizens today, we can be ready to enact change wherever we may live tomorrow. What starts here changes the world, but we don’t have to change the whole world at once.

Young is a computer science senior from Bakersfield, California. He is a senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @OldRyanYoung.