With the prevalence of politics on social media, it’s no surprise that students are informed about pressing issues. We mindlessly tweet, like and share our way through our daily dose of political news. The most thrilling headlines — the impeachment, the 2020 presidential election — capture our attention and perhaps inspire a fleeting emotional response.
For many students, engaging with politics has little to do with active civic participation and more to do with this passive ritual of staying informed through online interactions and reactions.
In a lot of ways, our efforts are well-intentioned.
“You gotta read the news and you gotta be an informed consumer of political stories,” said Christine Vo, a Ph.D candidate in government.
However, this isn’t where our civic obligation should end. We should view politics as an opportunity to actively voice our concerns and advocate for change that matters to us.
Government freshman Aisha Lee is a member of The Onyx Honor Society, which organizes a black caucus every semester. Lee said this event is an opportunity “to give the Black community at UT a forum where everyone can discuss struggles and actively work to fix them.”
Lee and many other students on campus find meaningful ways to contribute to their communities through forums, caucuses and town halls. Other civic engagement organizations such as TX Votes and Texas Rising encourage students to participate in politics by showing up to the polls to vote in local and national elections.
This type of participation is meaningful because it allows students to assert their political identity through active engagement rather than just fade into the void of social commentary through various media platforms.
However, it is easy to feel frustrated because despite being informed, we don’t feel as if we have a personal stake in these issues. This makes it difficult to define our roles within the mammoth state of our national affairs. But we don’t necessarily have to look nationally to take action.
“All politics is local,” Vo said. “Being at a town hall meeting is one of the most high-impact things a person can do.”
Ultimately, politics isn’t just about information. More importantly, it is about affirming one’s identity and seeking empowerment through established political processes. Students such as Lee look for the issues they can identify with and work to find ways to improve their communities accordingly.
“Instead of just wishing a change could be made, it’s important to have these forums where a community of people can come together, have the tough conversations, share experiences and work from the inside to help others with their daily struggles,” Lee said.
We all have our own personal issues and priorities. The first step is identifying these issues, and then it’s about finding the communities that can help us bring them to light and establish the solutions we want. Once we organize in these ways, we begin to understand the inherent power in voting in local as well as national elections and appreciate more the role of politically focused campus organizations in reinforcing political engagement among students.
I don’t think that you have to lead a rally or be a government official to affect purposeful and meaningful change. I am just a student who believes that politics is for me and you.
Sailale undeclared freshman from Dallas.