Quote Card by Opinion.

There’s no denying that politics are everywhere; in classrooms, on the news, spread across social media and in everyday conversation, politics are omnipresent. Discussions of politics have become increasingly polarized over the years, as political parties have evolved past the debate of tax rates and government spending that were foregrounded in decades past. Human rights issues — ranging from abortion rights, immigration rights, LGBTQ+ rights and more — have become associated with political parties, creating not only a strong political divide in our country but also an urgency to take a stand on these critical issues by associating ourselves with one of these two parties. This then begs the question: What if you don’t agree with either party?

There are two main ways to “disagree” with the parties and avoid labeling yourself as belonging to one or the other. One is to have clear, supported beliefs that you don’t believe fall into the basket of either the Democratic or the Republican Parties. The other option poses a more difficult route: to “stay out of politics.” A large group of people have opted to do this as politics has become increasingly sensitive and polarized topic in our country. Although this seems like the safe choice, it has significant implications.

By not engaging in political discussions, you inhibit your ability to learn from them. In many cases, being exposed to different political views is extremely valuable in the process of developing your own knowledge base. A 2019 New York Times article details an experiment in which 526 voters from diverse backgrounds were flown to a resort simply to debate each other. Although many stayed steadfast in their political beliefs throughout the weekend, they discovered a deeper understanding of the way their political “opponents” viewed these issues. The group’s faith in democracy doubled from 30% to 60%, and people on both sides found ways to compromise on proposed policies. Through hearing personal stories, empathy became a new factor in participants’ views, giving people fresh perspectives that they hadn’t been aware of before. 

Another big implication of claiming that you “stay out of politics” is the belief that your life will be relatively unchanged as the result of any particular election, law, etc. Even if you do vote, by not taking the time to educate yourself, or by removing yourself from conversations about politics, you devalue the impact and intention of your vote. The privilege in not caring about politics is found in the assumption that one will not be affected by political decisions made in our country.

It’s necessary to recognize that having the power to vote is its own privilege. Approximately 2.27% of voting age American adults are unable to vote due to felony disenfranchisement. This statistic disproportionately affects people of color, with over 6.2% of the adult African American community disenfranchised, compared to only 1.7% of the non-African American community (a disparity that speaks to a larger issue within the criminal justice system). There are an additional estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States who cannot vote. Those who can ought to use their right to vote to help support those who have been disenfranchised.

Aside from the privilege associated with the right to vote, the stance of “remaining out of politics” consequently means that you agree with the political status quo in our country, as you have no desire to change it. A recent example of this is the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade. Because of this ruling, women in many states lost their right to an abortion. By remaining impartial on this issue and staying out of politics, you therefore accept the default of women losing this right. By not engaging in conversations about how people are affected by certain political decisions, you take away your chance to learn and gain empathy for people who are directly affected by policy changes. 

I would like to address that this rule does not apply to people who cannot be involved in politics. There are many reasons that this could be the case. For example, openly disagreeing with individuals or family members could put a person in danger. Conversations involving discriminatory or harmful beliefs could mentally affect people in the communities being discriminated against. It is also not members of a marginalized group’s job to teach people how to be a good ally, and this expectation should not be placed upon them.

This piece instead applies to the people who choose not to engage to avoid confrontation, or who actively decide to not educate themselves on issues that do not directly affect them. Considering the access to knowledge and perspectives other than our own that the internet gives us, we must all use it to become the most educated, empathetic and politically well-versed society we can be.

Political activism is not a realistic expectation for all people. People have jobs, work, school, families and other interests that, understandably, may pull them away from being a diligent activist. However, it is a voter’s responsibility to have an educated opinion, actively participate in political discussions (when safe) and keep an open mind. In a world where political discourse is highly polarized and where the consequences of policies are so severe, it’s important to keep discussing and learning among ourselves and to recognize the privilege it is to have a say in the decisions our government makes.

Claudia Flynn is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at claudf@umich.edu.

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