I remember the day I registered to vote. I was a senior in high school and my AP Economics professor had decorated the classroom with American flags and asked local representatives to come speak.
I remember filling in the little bubble next to the party my parents belonged to, as probably most of the class did that day— a class full of newly-registered democrats, republicans and a sprinkling of libertarians.
I wish I could say I had a profound moment of transcendence in which I remembered all the women before me who fought for suffrage and my right to participate in the political sphere, but to be honest I probably didn’t think much more of it after I sealed the envelope.
The act felt like an important initiation into adulthood and American citizenship and yet, a bit anticlimactic. The 2012 election had just passed, and it would be four years until we could participate in our first general election.
Fast forward: I am now a senior in college and was able to vote in my first general election this past November. Campus buzzed with conversations, and many students spent time researching and discussing the different bills and issues that would appear on the ballot. We proudly filled ours out and dropped them in the mail, donning “I Voted” stickers and glowing with the hope that our voice might make some small difference.
It wasn’t until the age of 21 that I submitted my first ballot, but there is no starting age for caring about and investing in the world around you and taking steps to contribute to making it a better place. But voting in the general election is by no means the only, or even the most important, way to participate in politics.
Particularly in the current politically-charged climate full of crucial issues, it is as important as ever for college students to educate themselves and to find ways to contribute to improving our society and world.
College campuses have long been centers for thought and engagement. The 1960s saw numerous student protests as a part of the civil rights movement, the feminist movement, anti war protests and other political issues. And the crazy thing is they actually created change. What began as groups of students raising their voices actually had national consequences.
Aryana Petrosky, a senior political science major, said that she sees student political involvement less as organized clubs and more as informed conversations with one another.
“Those discussions keep us rooted in thinking about what we are committed to as individuals, what we think the proper role of government is in our daily lives, and to hold our government accountable to the common good,” said Petrosky.
These are the very conversations and seemingly small acts which create ripples of change.
It is no secret that politics can be a touchy subject. Everyone jokes about avoiding political talks when heading home for the holidays, and we’ve all heard the nervous laughter that rumbles around a classroom when a controversial candidate or issue is brought up. But a little disagreement is healthy. It keeps us from becoming stagnant. It allows us to understand differing perspectives and to seriously consider our own.
Some students prefer not to venture into the treacherous waters of politics and even believe that their vote doesn’t really count. It is important to remember that politics are not limited to a ballot or a vote.
“For local and national political involvement, read, speak and listen—on repeat. Then, if there is a particular area of policy or issue that you are being called to do more than just be informed, take action,” Petrosky said. “Grassroots movements are highly effective for those who are the activists; lobbying and calling your legislators is extremely effective for those of you who are the pushers; and working at a non-profit, local government, federal government, etc. are all extremely effective for those who want to make a career out of participating in politics.”
Being politically involved can mean educating yourself, participating in marches and protests, signing petitions or even deciding how to use your power as a consumer. Even volunteering with non-profits is a political act: It is an action which seeks to change the nature of the society we live in, which is inherently political.
All around the country, students are demanding to be heard and are taking their place in national and global conversations. Students are not just the future, they are the present, and over and over again it has been demonstrated that they have the collective power to make others pay attention to the issues that are important to them.
So whether or not you choose to vote, remember that your investment and involvement in the world around you is a privilege and an opportunity to shape your community for the better.