My fellow college students, we have more power than we can dream of. We only lack the will and knowledge to use it. In the 1950s, 1960s, and even the 1970s, college students drove issues like divestment from South Africa, environmental protection, gay rights, disability rights, ending Vietnam, and dozens of others. Today, outside of a relative few, we aren’t that engaged and don’t know how to be.
This is not by accident. This has been through decades of deliberate action by the economic and political elite. The weakening of our civics curriculum, decreased funding for education, breaking the power of unions, crushing mom-and-pop businesses in favor of corporatism, and the rise of corporate personhood have all contributed to our lack of solidarity and reduction of intellectual freedom. Socrates, the father of philosophy, said that even if one was a slave, one was still free if they were intellectually free. Sadly, our civic institutions – libraries, K-12 education, grassroots organizations, typically are too economically constrained to do civic participation activities, fear political retribution, and/or are underutilized.
“Never underestimate the power of a small, dedicated group of citizens to change the world. It is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Sanger
Colleges, workplaces, bars, and coffeehouses have typically been the places where not just solidarity occurs, but deep discussions about what we want our country to look like. We have access to faculty, education materials, and each other. More importantly, we all have a desire to make the country in a way that we see fit and fellow student-citizens that agree with what we say. This agreement is usually general principles and may differ on policy, but no two people ever agree 100 percent on everything. Add in other groups, backgrounds, and perspectives, and 70 percent agreement is looking pretty good. A 70 percent ally is never a 30 percent enemy.
I know that many of you have no interest in politics. It’s a nasty world, filled with hate, character assassination, and polarization. I certainly can’t fault you for that, sometimes I need a break, and I’m a political junkie. The feeling of helplessness is contagious, and hard to shake off when it seems like nothing you do will matter. What no one tells you, though, is what Margaret Sanger said: “Never underestimate the power of a small, dedicated group of citizens to change the world. It is the only thing that ever has.” Isiah Berlin called politics, “the slow boring of the soul.”
You should know that engaged or not, informed or not, politics has a distinct interest in you. Find your niche and pet issue. Then do all the research you can and find other citizens who share that same interest and passion. Results are rarely immediate and take constant action, whether it be lobbying or protesting.
We are facing the greatest threat to our democracy since 1933 when the same corporate and elite interests that exist today tried to put in a dictator in an event called the Wall Street Putsch. Our country needs us. It is only by rediscovering solidarity, re-engaging in the political process, and holding our elected officials accountable that we can reclaim our country. Thomas Paine wrote in 1776 that “These are times that try men’s souls.” How true those words ring today.