Young Activists: The Importance of Backing Your Vote With Action

The question of how to spend your free time at college is a thorny one.  Especially on a commuter campus where students often have outside jobs. Time is a very limited resource, so why should students take some of that time and devote it to politics, where the issues are divisive and there is a real chance your work will fail to achieve your goals?  Many students on this campus just don’t see any compelling reason to get involved in politics. When asked which form of volunteerism they found most impactful: charity or political campaigning, two out of the eight students answered that they believed more in the role of charity.

Cash, a volunteer medical assistant in her second year at WCC, prefers volunteer work because she says she “can see the results immediately.” Rebecca, another second-year student says of charity work: “I think that ultimately helps out more people directly.”

The emphasis here is on “directly.” Charity work lets you see the people you are helping and the changes you are making.  It is hard work, but the results of a good charity effort are far more visible in the short-term than political work. History has shown that long term changes take shifts in policy; usually government policy, but sometimes also standard industry policies.

That does not dismiss the work that charities do as worthless. Far from it, in fact. People still need help on the ground while policy changes that will take decades are being enacted.  Without the constant work of many worthy charities, the casualties to society would be unmeasurable. But charity is more like ambulance care, while social policy changes are the doctors in the emergency room.  In short, the government will always have more credit, more power and more money than any one non-profit network. They also can be more heavy-handed and clumsy with that power, but that’s why you keep a close eye on them.

And more importantly, if young people don’t get involved in politics, there are many other people who will welcome the lack of a challenge to their power. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, business world donors like Renaissance Technologies, Amazon.com and The Blackstone Group, have donated hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars to both parties in the 2018 election cycle alone.  

Most of this money goes towards paying campaign staff, exclusive fundraiser dinners, voter events and most importantly, producing political ads.  These ads have immense power over voters who don’t know the issues well, and can sway them into voting in the businesses’ interests. But misleading ads are only effective against an uninformed populace.  And more importantly, volunteers reduce the need for corporate finances to pay phone bankers, door-to-door registrars and the like.

So if you are sick of politics and the course of the country being directed by a few rich donors, and people on all sides are sick of that for sure, then you need to do more than just vote.  You need to get out and convince other people to vote with you.

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