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Impeachment sparks student activism

By Kevin Hornibrook

Marian Carcel, who was a 21-year-old college student during the Watergate Scandal, remembers being proud to watch her generation speak out against former President Richard Nixon’s corruption. 

“Everybody was very much aware of what was going on, and not happy,” she said. “This attitude extended beyond campus.”

Campuses across the country are engaging in political protest (Envato Elements).

Carcel, who is now a 67-year-old retired high school teacher, says that confidence and pride she had in the American people in 1974 has since left her.

The United States has seen four presidents face the threat of impeachment, three of which have occurred in the last half century. A different generation watched over each case, each time with a new cultural and political perspective. 

No experience stands out more than that of college students — throughout American history, the youngest demographic of voters have demanded change. The year 1963 saw University of California at Berkeley students stand up for free speech, sparking a nationwide dialogue in their Free Speech Movement. The 2010s saw demonstrations for womens’ rights, racial equality and environmental issues. 

A 2018 piece from Harvard Ed. Magazine dives deep into how effective student protests are today. According to the article, high school and college students are protesting more than any time since the 1960s.

A CNN photo gallery following the 2016 election shows images of Americans protesting directly against the president of their time — signs calling Bill Clinton a pervert, demanding jobs from Ronald Reagan and pleading for Nixon to be impeached were held high in efforts to voice the nation’s concerns.

The protests have changed in magnitude and severity with time. The most active era, especially for college students, was the late ’60s and ’70s, which saw nationwide marches against the Vietnam War, the Kent State shootings and Nixon’s presidency. Spikes in student activism during the impeachment process is a part of the American political climate. 

According to a Gallup poll from 1973-1974, Nixon’s approval rating slid from well over 60 percent to 24 percent at the time of his resignation.

Carol Chila, a 46-year-old director of provider recruitment at Inspira Health, did not feel the same about Clinton’s impeachment. She was a 25-year-old junior at Rutgers University at the time.

“I wouldn’t say it was the most important,” she said. “A little fatigue set in and people kind of got tired of hearing about the same thing. I was more focused on getting out of college.” 

Mackenzee Ballard, a 19-year-old freshman photography major at the Savannah College of Art and Design, spoke about President Donald Trump’s impeachment the way Carcel spoke about Nixon’s. 

“This impeachment is easily the most important news going on,” she said. 

The difference in perceived importance between generations may be a result of the nature of the scandal, according to Carcel, who called Clinton’s impeachment “ridiculous.”  She felt that Nixon deserved his investigation far more than Clinton.

Carcel was present for the peak of student activism but did not participate in, nor see any protests at her relatively small school in New Jersey. 

“I sure would’ve liked to join one if I was less busy,” said Carcel, who was balancing a job, college and a marriage at the time. “If I saw one, I’d have to say thank you. Thank you for what you’re doing.”

Nick Segal, a 19-year-old freshman finance major at Rutgers University, is actively interested in the political process, but doesn’t have the time to read every article he sees. 

“I think a lot of people want to know more and are legitimately interested, especially now when it starts to matter,” Segal said. “We’re just so bogged down with college bullshit. Papers due all the time, finals looming, that kind of stuff.”

Ballard found time to go beyond Carcel’s expectation of simply voting, taking to the streets to protest. She participated in the March For Our Lives, a March 2018 protest in Washington, D.C. against gun violence that followed the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fl. 

“I guess it wasn’t meant to be a protest against the president, but eventually we were out there chanting ‘Fuck Donald Trump,’” she said. 

Segal said he had not seen any demonstrations on his campus, and he probably wouldn’t join one. He felt his time would be better spent focusing on school. 

According to Chila, people at Rutgers were talking about Clinton all the time, leading to one big debate of “Team Bill” vs. “Team Monica,” sparking a feminist movement on campus.

Similarly, Segal mentioned that the president and his impeachment trials have a frequent topic of conversation. 

The popularity of social media makes this impeachment stand out from the others. Students in the ’70s could not tweet about Nixon, and students in the ’90s could not access a breaking news story minutes after it occurred.

“I think it’s very true that most discourse happens on social media,” Carcel said. “I think a lot of young people make decisions based on what they read online.”

Ballard and Segal, both 19-year-old college students, shared that most of what they read comes through social media platforms like Twitter. Ballard sees impeachment hearing updates on Snapchat, a popular app among teenagers that has no apparent relation to politics. 

Young people’s around-the-clock access to news has shaped the generation’s political awareness. With stories a click away, teenagers can stay up to date if they have any interest in current events — but according to Ballard, that interest is often what’s lacking.

“I feel like a lot of people say they’re more involved than they are,” she said. “People say ‘Fuck Trump,’ but don’t do anything about it. They don’t go out to protest or do research.”


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