With the November elections fast approaching, I have a suggestion for many young people looking to “rock the vote”: stay at home.
A recent incident at Columbia University gets at the heart of the internal logic behind what I’m saying.
Members of the Minutemen, the group that reports illegal crossings across the Mexico-U.S. border, were recently invited to speak at a forum on illegal immigration. According to the New York Sun, as Minutemen founder Jim Gilchrist spoke, students stormed the stage and unfurled a banner that read “No one is ever illegal.” The Columbia Spectator reported that one student protester explained that “The Minutemen are not a legitimate part of the debate on immigration.”
That very line is representative of the problem with political discourse in 21st century America. It’s not that political discourse is ineffective, it’s virtually non-existent. I think a little soul searching is in order.
The student protesters at Columbia remind me of people that complain about President George W. Bush’s close-minded, “Nazi” politics. They say he ignores intelligence that contradicts his pre-conceived notions, that he makes decisions based on his own special interests, that he often discredits his opponents.
It’s becoming increasingly na’ve to think that tunnel-vision politics is solely synonymous with the political right. The protesters at Columbia proved as much.
In a conversation I recently had with a professor, he spoke about radical political ideologues. “People criticize individuals for their ways of thinking about things,” he said. “It’s so easy to do, but what happens when they look at themselves?”
So what do these kids see when they look in the mirror?
We’ve been programmed to repeat democratic mantras that often permit hypocrisy and promote shallow thinking: “They’re entitled to their opinion,” people say. “They have a constitutional right to vote.”
By forfeiting opportunities to take part in political discourse, to come to understand one’s opponents, to practice the ideals promoted in a democracy, people like those protestors at Columbia have forfeited their constitutional right to think freely. They’re not enlightened. They’re not even different.
They’re a cog in a single-minded, shallow political machine.Former United States President Thomas Jefferson said people do not think until they have violently engaged in war to change their political system. Nineteenth-century abolitionist David Walker insisted that empathizing with your enemy allows you to understand the thought process behind ideologies.
It’s about time the collective youth of America starts thinking. Efforts to understand the other side are long overdue. This age continues to emphasize radical protest over civil discourse.Without questions, without intelligent discourse, we’ve already sacrificed our votes. In this case, activism is more dangerous than apathy.
In an age where sensation tends to overshadow truth (see Terrell Owens’ “suicide attempt,” or Pope Benedict’s comments on Islam), it’s time for today’s young adults to spend as much time challenging their own way of thinking as they do challenging those with whom they disagree.
It’s something I personally detest and something I am concerned of being guilty of. Maybe my take on political discourse is properly conscious, properly self-aware and enlightened. Or perhaps I’m just as ignorant and close-minded as the protesters at Columbia.