This primary season, get involved in politics

It is with a bittersweet sadness and burgeoning nostalgia that I acknowledge not only the end of the school year, but also the final episode of “Playing Politics.” I had scarcely arrived back in sunny Los Angeles in the early days of the semester when I began penning its first installment. So it is with great pride, and perhaps a little shock, that I observe its end.

I am clearly a partisan columnist, and this was clearly a partisan column. It was written with the pride and the persistence of a Southern Democrat, and not for a second was I unaware of that fact. But I have tried to take care and preserve a common — and bipartisan — theme: Civic engagement is the only thing standing between democracy and plutocracy, equity and oligarchy, policy and demagoguery. No matter whether you rallied for Black Lives Matter or think Kim Davis should be venerated, whether you love Bill Maher or Bill O’Reilly — if you support the value of stable Western democracy, then do your duty to preserve it. Get educated, stay informed, think critically and get to the polls.

If you’re skeptical that Bernie Sanders could really offer every American kid a free ticket to college, you should be equally skeptical that Donald Trump could really Ziploc this country’s entire southern border. If you think Ted Cruz isn’t entirely deserving of his smarmy reputation, maybe you should also rethink Hillary Clinton’s Ice Queen status — and vice versa. There’s pandering, peddling and pointing fingers on both sides of the aisle. No matter which party your values most closely align with, be certain you are educated, informed and analyzing what you’re reading. If you really can’t say how the Electoral College works or don’t really know how representatives to the Senate and House are apportioned, there are droves of videos, articles and quick explanations for all sorts of governing bodies and programs. Know the basics on issues — there’s a 60-second explanatory YouTube video for everything from Benghazi to Obamacare to the Panama Papers.

But getting educated is useless if you don’t stay informed. It is incredibly important that you get your news from more than one reliable source, and not from the television. Start with The New York Times or the Wall Street Journal; read CNN Politics or Newsweek. The key to informed voting is — unsurprisingly — information.

The second thing you can do is get active. Our campus boasts not only party-affiliated political clubs like the USC College Democrats and USC College Republicans, but also organizations like the Political Student Assembly that are decidedly bipartisan and efficacy-focused. If you’re passionate about a certain issue, join its organization, like Students for Justice in Palestine, or look into a club like College Students for Bernie that supports your favorite candidate. Share your voice — write into national college publications like PolicyMic or USA TODAY College, or start within campus and apply to write for the Daily Trojan.

Most importantly, you need to vote. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, but those who want to excuse themselves from their civic duty have lots of convenient explanations as to how voting is useless or your voice won’t really count — but it’s widespread misconceptions like these that make the college-age vote so unreliable. If you’re wondering why the Democratic National Committee decided early on that Sanders wasn’t going to make it against Clinton, it’s partially because his support is based on a demographic that doesn’t care to actually go vote. The bitter truth is that every time you decline to cast your ballot, your opponent’s vote counts twice. So if you really care so little that you could get to the polls but won’t, that’s your choice — but don’t pretend it’s because your actions wouldn’t have counted.

Finally, every single voting citizen in this country needs to make their best effort to think critically. Understand why a talking head on Fox News or even a presidential candidate like Clinton might be telling you what they’re telling you. Even if you dearly love your party, know its policy from its propaganda. Don’t base a presidential vote on sound bites you hear or impressions you get — look at platforms, free and available on every candidate’s website. Ask yourself if this person’s values really align with yours, whether they’re capable of  — or intending on — fulfilling campaign promises, what their connections are to existing establishments, who they’ve worked with and why they’re running.

This year, and this column might be coming to an end, but this election is not. The California Primary is on June 7, and the general election is not soon after. Get excited — you are at a university that affords you great opportunities to get informed and get involved. There’s a world to be changed — but it begins with your voice.

Lily Vaughan is a freshman majoring in history and political science. Her column, “Playing Politics,” ran  Fridays.