Eugene Debs said under our Constitution the people can have anything but that his greatest regret was that the people don’t seem to want much of anything at all. Far too many seem to not want anything. My thirst and desire for something that manifests itself from the energy, compassion, ambition, passion, and ability to question authority and social and political norms drives me to push forward for something more than the nothing that far too many seem to be striving for.
Change is all the rage these days. If we ever reach a level of specificity between America’s two “reformer” candidates from the two predominant parties in America vying for the presidency, then we might find ourselves excited about an agenda that could seriously alter our nation’s future for the better. Or, maybe we wouldn’t get excited. Maybe that specificity would suck the wind out of our sails and leave us feeling demoralized, broken, and down-trodden.
Of course, that all depends on how we participate or respond to the campaigns for the presidency. If we simply throw money at candidates, pass newsletters that “expose” faults in candidates, check our text messages regularly from the campaign trail, watch YouTube videos of candidates after we’ve heard everything they have to say, than we might be severely disappointed in November depending on what happens. Or, if we petition to get candidates on the ballot, organize events aimed at raising money, engage in phone banking and discuss political questions, go door-to-door to “get out the vote,” become “citizen journalists” and creators of media that can greatly shape public opinion during the election, and forge bonds between members of the community for future watchdog, activist, or citizen group organization. Our participation can create a lasting structure for a future of real change or it can be simply that of spectating, the act of watching from the sidelines and never taking any steps to get deeply involved.
Undoubtedly, a higher level of participation fueled by an aim to seriously shake the system will raise expectations for all that you do. You will probably be told you have no idea of what’s possible or that you lack the ability to understand reality. Your idealism will clash with realism creating a cacophony of rubbish on comments sections and message boards all over the Internet (since no longer do real political conversation happen regularly in any place other than the Internet). You will want to become disenchanted and abandon ship but I suggest you do not jump ship when you experience the first symptoms of discomfort. The boat is supposed to rock. If the boat sails smoothly, you probably aren’t going to navigate that boat to any place meaningful. The boat has to rock to get to its intended destination!
Take control and believe that in your education and growth in society (which should be never-ending) you will grow yourself into a human being that you will always be happy to be. For example, I am writing this in a Politics and Civil Rights class. Naturally, I should be thrilled because I would (and so to would others) think this class could lead to conversation that would advance students’ abilities to critically think about politics and civil rights in a way that would allow students to gain an understanding of how important it is to ask questions, to know which questions to ask, and to be able to dialogue about the deep political questions that this country must come to terms with in order to move forward into the future. Sadly, I am not thrilled because the professor does not wish to promote discussion in class.
What experience this man has gone through I don’t know but I do know that informing people that menopause means students should give him a break is no way to start a class any day of the week. I know that giving off an air of crossness and superiority which gets in the way of communication with students is no way to motivate students to participate actively in the classroom. I also know that popping in video after video after video until class time is up is no way to engage students and inspire them to pursue more reading on the focus of the class outside of the classroom.
I was not there on the first day of class because I was at the Republican National Convention. Therefore, I did not have the syllabus to do the assignment. Since my professor is technologically illiterate, I could not get the assignment and complete it before class today. The professor asked me where my paper was and what I was going to do to not get an “F” for this week. I responded. He barked at my response and said that I’m going to “get up on outta here and do the review and turn it in to him by Friday.” Apparently, we were assigned a review of Birth of a Nation, the controversial, historical cinematic masterpiece by D.W. Griffith on the Ku Klux Klan.
I would have no problem with doing the assignment, moving on, and promptly turning in assignments when they are due from here on out. Yet, I do not know that I will get from my money spent on this class and the energy I put into work anything of any value to my education. For educating students on Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois, the professor handed out printouts from the two civil rights leaders’ Wikipedia pages. When considering all the sources out there for truly academic information, it is inexcusable for a professor to use Wikipedia to attempt to educate any student. Also, it is unacceptable to simply show public access videos and hand out hundreds of handouts and rely on both to educate students on the Constitution and civil rights history in America.
What increases my discontent with this class even more is the thought that this teacher is actually going to influence how 20-30 students respond to politics and civil rights for the rest of their lives. I was not the only one upset and many expressed serious frustration with the fact that the course description for this class looked like a fantastic learning opportunity but now it seems like it will be just plain irritating, a class that one dreads attending until the semester is over. (The Wikipedia printouts created some of this frustration.)
A class like this is too important to be conducted in this manner. If you want students to write many analyses and several research papers, you have to inspire them to respond in written form. You have to figure out what they don’t know and show them the importance of becoming knowledgeable. This can only be done through conversation and discussion in the classroom. Handouts and videos, while greatly supplemental to the learning process, will be subordinating to the learning process if nothing meaningful is said in conjunction with the handouts and film. Professors especially in a course like Politics and Civil Rights must be able to engage students and definitely must not alienate them.
Simply out of principle, I cannot continue in a class that is setup in a way that does a great disservice to all who have struggled through politics in America for racial equality and to all who continue to struggle today. I would not remain enrolled in this class even if it would put me three credit hours short of graduating on time. The work I would complete in this class would be severely undermined by unmotivating involvement or spectating in a class whose possibilities and potential most likely would remain untapped all semester.
After the first Student Government Association meeting for Columbia College Chicago (the college I attend), I am motivated to aspire to achieve great goals here at Columbia College in Chicago.
Personally, I wish to seek out the “student voice” on campus and figure out what the “student voice” thinks about the Student Government Association and what the “student voice” thinks Columbia should do to move towards a more perfect union. I also wish to maintain organization skills, good attendance, and connections through communication and meetings with Student Government leaders and Columbia College administrators. Finally, I wish to work towards creating a compelling sense of student experience here on campus.
As part of fulfilling those personal goals, I will work toward establishing an area to be denoted “Office of Civics and Community Involvement” to include all political/social activist groups and to create connections with the Chicago and Columbia College community. I will setup a system for recording or streaming Student Government Association meetings for Columbia students to view on the Student Government webpage (C-SPAN streams Congress; our college television network, Frequency TV, should stream this college’s government). And I will establish a system for incorporating students who are not in Student Government into our meetings so that the student body can become more involved in Student Government and so that more students will be interested in running for elections. (*I would like to see contested races for Student Government senate seats.)
I happen to believe if we don’t turn on politics, politics will turn on us. If we don’t turn on policies that worry us and challenges we face in schools, workplaces, or communities, those policies and challenges will turn on us.
Injecting our expectations into the political and public sphere of life is not rude; it’s the way to achieving moral fortitude in the world and the places we live in from day to day.