COLUMN: We cannot succumb to political complacency

In January, as a response to the inauguration of President Donald Trump, millions of people around the world joined forces to march for women’s and human rights, descending on cities from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. to London in a flurry of passion and activism.  Millennials, who overwhelmingly voted for Hillary Clinton, made their presence known, especially on social media, where photos and captions of unity and strength flooded timelines and newsfeeds.

But when the posters began collecting dust in our closets, for some Americans, the fire that burned in our hearts began to dwindle as complacency and normalcy began to sink in — and so here we are, two months later.

Let’s dispel with the notion that millennials don’t know what we’re doing — we know exactly what we’re doing.  I’m just worried that we’re not doing enough.

Look to history — millennials spearheaded the anti-Vietnam protests and, more recently, led the charge for economic and racial equality with the Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter movements.

But now, after only roughly half of eligible millennials voted in the 2016 election, the issue becomes what we will do until the 2018 midterm elections, when historically millennials have turned out in even fewer numbers.

As a founder of a political club on campus, I’ve seen activism on USC’s campus wax and wane, but mostly the latter.  After a brief spell of protesting and marching, we’ve reverted back to the apathy that sets us apart from schools like the University of California, Berkeley — a campus historically known for its activism. True, we all lead busy lives, but it’s a herculean task to get passersby to call Congress while on Trousdale.  And I’ve heard every excuse under the sun: “I have to run to the class I’m late to” despite their leisurely pace through the quad, “I don’t know how to” despite the informational flier in my outreached hand and even “What’s Congress?” which I desperately hope is a poorly-executed attempt at humor.

Maybe our position on the liberal West Coast far from the “swamp” of Washington, D.C. insulates us from the day-to-day pressures and crises of politics, but it’s clear that we all have a stake in the polity of our nation.  For one, USC ranked second in terms of students who would be affected by Trump’s initial travel ban, putting the rights of 252 Trojans at stake.  Then there’s the numerous undocumented students and staff whose lives depend on the whims of the White House, the thousands of students and alumni who could be hurt by Trump’s decision to roll back protections for those who default on student loans outlined in his budget plan and entire generations whose livelihoods will be impacted by Trump’s reversal of environmental protections.

But it’s hard to sustain political commitment when we can hardly show up to class on time. It’s hard to feel empowered as an individual, and especially as a student, in the midst of myriad issues that seem so far above our heads. And it’s hard not to feel disheartened or jaded when our newsfeeds are littered with laundry lists of our country’s problems while many of us struggle to do laundry at all.

Yet the alternative is a tougher pill to swallow.

I’m not asking you to change the world — I’m asking members of our generation to start caring, and more importantly, to believe in ourselves. It’s not as arduous as you think.

It can be as simple as signing up for Daily Action, a service that sends daily texts about which representative to call regarding timely issues because calling Congress is arguably the easiest, quickest and most effective way to voice your opinion outside of the election season. Or it could be donating to causes, political or not, to support initiatives that you believe in, or going out to the community to volunteer.

We delude ourselves by thinking that we as individuals can’t make a difference, but imagine the impact an entire generation can have — a generation that will soon form the largest voting bloc in the nation. So this political season, let’s pledge to avoid the sirens of complacency and disenchantment — the country may end up depending on it.

Alec Vandenberg is a freshman majoring in public policy. His column,“Civil and Civic,” runs every other Monday.

1 reply
  1. Don Harmon
    Don Harmon says:

    Alec has a good point about getting involved. Staying informed, contacting our US Congresspersons, demonstrating peacefully, donating to valued causes – all good ideas and sensible for USC students who have to study, yet can and should influence how our Federal, state and local governments make decisions.

    Alec loses me, though, in wanting to emulate Cal Berkeley. Ugh. Riot if speakers are scheduled to present peaceful, but contrary or controversial views. Break windows. Spray paint and damage our buildings. Occupy offices and trash them. Attack peaceful demonstrators or even fellow Trojan students who express views not to our liking. Sorry, Alec, you wrote a fine article until you picked that loathesome place as your shining example.

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