Why I’m Thankful For Scary Political Trends
In recent weeks, depending upon where you stand, there have been plenty of troubling events in American politics to frustrate, annoy, anger, and provoke you. The long list includes a Senate bill that would allow companies to censor Internet content; Prop 26 in Mississippi; Herman Cain and Jerry Sandusky’s sexual misconduct and subsequent denials; Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Oakland’s evictions; the United States’ decision to increase its military presence in northern Australia; the proposed Keystone Pipeline route; the health care bill’s upcoming Supreme Court trial; continued threats to the Clean Air Act; and the list goes on. Did you know that we also might have to bail out the Federal Housing Administration?
Surprisingly, I am grateful for these episodes—they remind us that we cannot simply take progress for granted, especially when it comes to the rights and liberties that previous generations fought for. Each new development forces us to voice our opinions, and drives the stakes just high enough that we have to act on those opinions. The most recent election here in Middletown and confusion about students’ voting rights is a great example: it seems to me that students were more invested in voting precisely because someone said they shouldn’t.
That’s not to say that we, Wesleyan students, aren’t sitting pretty. Unless we’re taking a course on or participating in activism, we aren’t always exposed to the full extent of our privileges as U.S. citizens or citizens of other nations. I certainly complain about the state of U.S. politics, as do many of my friends, but U.S. citizens are so lucky to have strong civil rights and human rights protection.
Still, would we be independent from Britain if it hadn’t been for taxation without representation? Would thousands of people have turned out for civil rights, women’s rights, and gay rights movements if the risk was minor or the status quo was just mildly discriminatory?
I’m not encouraging Obama to pass his own version of the Patriot Act or go to war against yet another country; I’m not encouraging Arizona police officers to pull people over for driving while Latino; I’m not encouraging more male politicians to commit assault and then act like it’s no big deal. What I am doing is encouraging every single one of us, regardless of identity or citizenship, to get mad and take action when these things happen.
In the words of Howard Beale in “Network,” “I want you to get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell, ‘I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!’” Every single one of these scary moments is an opportunity for us to exercise our right to free speech and participate in democracy, a call to action that commands us to speak or commit the crime of silence.
Don’t stick your head out of a window right now and yell. Do sign a petition, join a march, or write an op-ed (oh yes, I went there). And stand up for more mashed potatoes and stuffing at Thanksgiving dinner—you’re a growing child, after all.
Even if you don’t have The New York Times set as your homepage on your browser or create your own petitions or know everything there is to be known about freeing Tibet, it’s quite easy to pick a cause and take action, even just on this campus. If you see something, say something (and do something!). We have a fairly responsive administration, so there’s no better place to advocate for change, and there’s plenty of concrete on which to chalk your message. And as for American politics, I say, thanks for reminding us that no step forward is set in stone, and that there’s still work to be done. Our generation will not stand idly by; we will fight until it gets better.