By Sam Fogelgaren
It seems not a day goes by without an adult’s snide comment on the way today’s youth don’t care about politics. We all know the routine: it usually features civic-minded platitudes such as ‘if you don’t vote, you have no right to complain,’ followed by a reminder that they always voted (yeah, right). Our elders are half-right. As a generation, our voter participation rates are quite low (in 2012, the 18-24 age group turned out 25% less than 1964).
What adults often get wrong is that while we tend to be apathetic towards voting, we are far from politically apathetic. While previous generations have seen voting and candidate/party centered campaigns as the way to engage politically, our generation— discouraged by formative political experiences like the Iraq War, the Great Recession and extreme Washington gridlock — prefers alternative forms of political expression. Just look at the student organizing taking place at Yale, Mizzou, Ithaca College and many other schools around America. Whatever your thoughts are on these organizing campaigns, their size, persistence and goal achievement demonstrates a desire to meaningfully engage in politics, albeit a different outlet than parties, candidates and elections.
Young people aren’t avoiding the polls because we don’t care: rather, because we feel that our votes will not persuade politicians to address the issues we care about, the act of voting doesn’t carry the same sense of urgency it did for previous generations. And we apply that urgency to different forms of political engagement, such as direct action.
So how do we change the game? How do we parlay our deep passion for social and political issues into the more formal realms of politics?
Enter the TCNJ Political Union — a new student organization dedicated to improving and sustaining political engagement on campus. Our goal is to engage all students, with a particular focus on the substantial number of students who are politically disengaged. We will do this by meeting students halfway — by identifying intersections between politics and common areas of student interest, and working with student groups, faculty and administration, and off-campus partners to build effective programming.
And what you’re currently reading is the first installment in a new blog titled ‘We, the Campus.’ Each week, we’ll feature an opinion piece from a TCNJ student or faculty member concerning a politically relevant topic. We’re dedicated to finding new ways to reach students, spark lifelong interests in politics, and bring the campus together to do it.
As college students, we take the values and experiences formed here and bring them into our adulthood — we bring them into the jobs we have, the communities we live in and the families we raise. We have an extraordinary opportunity to instill a sense of civic and political urgency in our fellow students. Let’s run with it.
Sam Fogelgaren is the Executive Director of TCNJ Political Union.
Students and faculty members are welcome to contribute opinion pieces to this blog.