I recently came across an article in The New York Times while reading the paper this Sunday afternoon - print journalism is not dead and they gave us a 50% discount so albeit, they may be desperate - and the recognition of self within this article startled me. As an avid, passionate young activist, I find myself running right into one recurring problem. It isn't so much apathy or indifference to politics rather than a fundamental hesitancy to go beyond the most arbitrary and unfortunately, sometimes ineffectual, parts of political engagement. The article is worth chewing on- it is entitled "The Problem With Participatory Democracy Is the Participants," written by Eitan D. Hersh, and that title embodies the problem with contemporary activism.
There is a newfound, rapidly spreading and infectious piqued interest in political engagement, but the term "engagement" is generous. A lot of my peers and adults, as well, post their daily political opinions or repost articles on Facebook, sign a few petitions that often demand unrealistically lofty action, and that's about it. I know that everyone who does this has good intentions, but it is because of that that I feel it solicited to ask more of American than just that level of participation. We have to be better. We have to go further. How do we do that? We get involved locally. While it may sound less thrilling or important, it is actually perhaps the most invaluable type of involvement there is in this nation. Democracy doesn't function if it isn't happening successfully and passionately at the most basic of elections and levels. Doing this kind of work can be grueling, perhaps even uninspiring, and lack the instant gratification that online activism provides for us. When I say this, I do not mean to disparage the sheer brilliance and value of social media in activism and community organizing- it utterly reignited a universal passion for social justice- but I think of it as a gateway and vehicle to drive us directly to in-person change, too. As we can tell, voter turnout hasn't changed much even though we see how gruesomely low voter turnout can wreak havoc on our nation. We have to vote in local elections. We have to fight voter suppression and get more people out there, not just for the big elections, but for all of them. The midterms are coming up and it is absolutely essential that everyone who can vote does. No matter your ideological bend, midterms are ridiculously underestimated and also ridiculously important. This is a make or break midterm for some of us.
Politics needs to be more than a "leisure activity" or a "hobby," as Hersh puts it. I don't mean that everyone needs to quite their jobs and become professional politicians or activists for a living. I mean that when you do have the time, do it because you recognize that you have a civic duty to do so. Why are you posting that article on Facebook? Why are you calling your representatives every few months? What is the greater, larger picture here- what kind of America are you really fighting for? Voting needs to be a priority, not a hobby. It needs to be something made accessible to all and revered as the civic duty and powerful, autonomous vehicle of change that it really is. State-level participation is where change starts. Are you angry? Are you riled up, frustrated, discontent? Then get out there and flip a district. Get involved closer to home. The centralized base of power will never change if individual ones don't. A 50 state approach to political change is the only effective one.