Letdown: Youth and politics
When Daniel Crooke called for the first spring meeting of the Chapman University College Democrats, he wasn’t expecting a large turnout. He didn’t get one.
The second year president of the club wrangled together three loyal members for the last-minute gathering around a table in Jazzman’s Café. After a short discussion of future meeting plans peppered with jokes about Republican presidential candidates, the meeting was adjourned, leaving with little progress.
Remarkably, they’ve accomplished more than their Republican counterparts. That group couldn’t even fill up a Jazzman’s table.
Senior film student Eric Smith, the former president of the Chapman University Republicans, said “the club fizzled out after the 2010 elections.”
“Politics, if you just look at the face of it, seems so unappealing to young people,” said Crooke, a junior film studies major. “It’s just old white guys yelling at each other, and there’s no real progress being made.”
Despite an upcoming national election and perennial issues still demanding attention and action, many Chapman students just don’t care. As evidenced by the campus’s dearth of political involvement, many students are setting politics aside, allowing others to dictate the path of the country they are destined to inherit.
Many young adults simply choose not be be informed – despite more knowledge on politics available than ever before.
Sophomore history major Daniel Levy is an exception. He keeps himself up-to-date on the issues, and he believes that most of his peers have a general sense of what’s going on in America. Nonetheless, he sees his peers’ shallow understanding as a defensive measure more than a proactive effort.
“It seems to me that most of us don’t really care to delve into specific issues or topics, but as long as we are in the know about what is going on, we can get by without looking ignorant,” Levy said. “People like to be thought of as smart, but might not… care about what these issues are or what effect they have on the bigger picture.”
Smith, a senior film student, thinks that many students simply adopt their parents’ views without assessing them for themselves. He supposes that the majority of Chapman students are conservative, but he sees that as their default mode.
“They haven’t necessarily formed these opinions on their own, and they haven’t really thought critically about the issues. But I think it’s the same way for the liberals here,” Smith said.
However, some students fear their voice wouldn’t be heard even if they do speak up.
“For every rich, involved person, there are probably hundreds of thousands of below average people who don’t get heard or represented,” Levy said. “Warren Buffet and Donald Trump are notable examples; when they speak out about their political views, it makes headlines.”
Chapman Law professor Timothy Canova believes that the effects of moneyed interests have shifted the political parties’ attention as well. Once the faculty adviser for the Chapman University College Democrats, Canova stepped down last year “in disgust with national Democrats for caving in to Republicans on the debt ceiling, after caving on health reform, the Bush tax cuts, Wall Street non-reform, and the watered down stimulus.”
“Since moneyed interests have purchased access to both political parties, the differences have become so narrow over many pocketbook issues, while the gulf widens on culture war issues,” Canova said.
Yet people can still be heard – Crooke sighted the recent Occupy movement as an example. He believes that it has “completely changed the narrative” of the upcoming presidential debates.
However, Canova senses that much more needs to be done to enact change.
“For politics to rise from such street level protests into something more sustainable will require people to infuse the same spirit of rebellion and protest into their daily lives,” Canova said. “It is not enough to complain in the streets about the growing wealth and plunder by the top one percent.”
But perhaps the underlying cause of students’ apathy, the roadblock that prevents thought from becoming action, is the notion that these political decisions do not affect them.
“Most of the decisions that are made in Washington don’t really affect individuals… People don’t really relate to the issues,” Levy said.
Canova sees that unresolved issues fail to keep students involved in the political process.
“Ultimately, young voters will remain engaged only when they start seeing results,” Canova said.
Throughout the past year young adults throughout the world have sparked national revolutions, overthrowing dictatorships and tyranny. Yet the same generation of young Americans has mostly remained passive.
“Look at the situation in Greece and the rest of Europe,” Canova said. “Big banks and credit rating agencies are in the process of wrecking those economies. The same will happen here, the economic situation can become far more dire, unless this generation of college students demands attention.”
For college students, it’s easy to pass off democratic responsibilities to devote more time to learning to live on one’s own for the first time. But when will this generation take on the responsibility for themselves?
Crooke is counting on that time coming soon.
“I think [our] numbers will go up closer to the election,” Crooke said. “If this year’s [election] generates a fraction of the enthusiasm in 2008… then I think more people will want to get involved.”
Perhaps it is just college students’ nature to procrastinate, but it will require more than a few all-nighters to take control of this country’s future.