Engaging in Political Activism as a Student
Published on April 12, 2017 by Tom Westover
The call for people to be more politically active is stronger than ever before in modern history. Social media and websites promote activism and give suggestions on how to go about it. Organizing marches, boycotts, and lockouts is easier than ever before. However, while it is important to make your voice heard, you must not get caught up in the moment without considering future repercussions. While it is a time to stand up for what you believe and make a difference in your world, it is also time to act with prudence.
Activism is the effort to promote, impede, or direct social, political, economic, or environmental change or to promote or influence the current situation to continue. Daily the media covers examples of political activism events. Some of these events become violent or disruptive, while some maintain a more peaceful environment. You need to be cognizant of the group you participate with, the participants in the group, and the philosophy of the event organizers. It is easy to get pulled in quickly to a more intense activity than you had planned on.
First of all, while you may think you can remain anonymous on social media or your web presence if you do not use your real name, which is not in fact accurate. Whatever you do to attempt to conceal your true identity, your true identity is easily discovered. You should treat every post, tweet, and web post as if your parent, your pastor, and your future employers will read it, because, in fact, they may actually read it.
Secondly, your political activism should not damage your academic performance or future career opportunities. Maintain your efforts in your classes without letting political events or activities interfere with your academic work. Remember that, as a student, your primary responsibility is to your coursework. Do not let assignments creep up on you while you are busy with political activities. Keep your calendar up to date, and do not deviate from your plans to succeed in your courses to earn your degree.
Third, be aware of signing photo releases or letting your image be in newspapers and web sources. If you do not want to promote your activities, beware of the cameras.
Additionally, you must determine the time and financial constraints for doing what you desire to support or protest a cause. Before you know it, you may find that the time required is more than you have to give or the financial strain of traveling or signing up for causes may get you in trouble. Avoid using your credit card for these events, unless you pay them off each month.
You can make your voice heard just as well by working smart for a cause as working hard for the cause you support. Use your problem solving skills to determine the best way to represent your cause well. Brainstorm ways you can be politically active. If the written word is your talent, then you may find that you can write letter, articles for blogs or newspapers, position papers, magazine articles, or even a book. If the spoken word is your talent, plan speaking engagements where you can influence people with your voice. Volunteer to speak at different community organizations and events. Make video blogs or YouTube videos explaining your position.
If you do not feel competent to be on the “stage”, you can support your cause from behind the scenes. You can stuff envelopes, place flyers on vehicles or homes, go door to door and share information. If you have artistic abilities, you can use your art to deliver a poignant message representing your political views. You can create a cartoon, a poster, or an art work that will have a large impact on viewers. You could write a song to reflect your views, following the role model of the songwriters and performers of the 1970’s. Every creative endeavor or small action is necessary for the entire team of political activists to be effective.
If you find yourself considering an extreme action for political ends, you need to weigh it carefully. Do a cost-benefit analysis. Look not just at the costs today, but future costs to your personal life or career as well. Violence and illegal actions that could lead to your arrest and incarceration would rarely be the best way to support a cause. Peaceful responses to make your case always outweigh potential conflicts and disruptions to your education or daily life. Emotional reactions are rarely viewed favorably by others.
As a young person, you cannot attempt to forecast who you will be or where you will be twenty years from now. Think of the recent Cabinet hearings and the many facts from decades before that were brought out in these hearings. You must live today in a way that you will not prevent you from attaining your goals in the future. One way that you can achieve that is to stay legal, honest, and ethical in all of your activities today. Parents like to say that people are judged according to who they “hang around with”, and that statement, while trite, is true. Be careful about associating yourself with a group that may make poor choices or receive negative press in the future. With modern technology, there are no secrets today.
Do not let the cautionary advice mentioned in this piece deter you from participating in political activism that can make a difference in our world today. You have been given rights in the First Amendment that allow you to speak, march, boycott, and express yourself in support of or against philosophies, actions, political events, or public figures. Your voice can make a difference, a big difference, not only in your community but in your future. Just make sure that you use rational problem solving skills and critical thinking to determine what you should do, when you should do it, who should you associate with, and how you should make your voice heard in your community and your nation today.
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