For those of you who sit back and watch as this country gets rocked by political turmoil and maybe feel a little guilty about that, this story’s for you.
In politics today, it seems as if there is only one way to be a good liberal or a conservative. Or a feminist, environmentalist, fundamentalist, fascist, communist, you name it. If you’re a Democrat but you oppose abortion, you’re out. If you’re a Republican but you support amnesty for illegal immigrants, you’re also out. This sentiment felt all the more real for me the other day — in my case, being a good person of color — during Central Student Government elections here at the University of Michigan.
It was Thursday night, high time for each party’s campaign. Reggie the Campus Corgi just dropped out of the race and students had to look for a human candidate to support. A few members of the Japan Student Association, of which I am part, wanted the organization’s executive board to endorse the MomentUM party for their platform and diverse representation, just as a few other cultural organizations have done.
Yet I was opposed. Aligning the board with a certain party meant we were endorsing an organization, which I may have been skeptical of. Moreover, I wanted to keep JSA apolitical. A non-negligible number of members and I joined the organization to forget about politics and have a good time with people who share the same background or an interest in Japanese culture.
There were certainly valid points being made by the members who wanted to endorse a party. Perhaps we, as an organization that represents a certain ethnicity on campus, have an obligation to endorse candidates and movements that are committed to expanding representation for people of color on campus. Yet not everyone thinks about social justice all day every day. Just as there is a right to advocate, there is also a right to stay silent.
In the end, we compromised and allowed individual members (not the entire board) to endorse MomentUM on JSA’s Facebook page. Yet, I was left saddened. Thought civil, over the course of the argument, some accused me of not caring about people of color and not using my privilege to help others. Of course, I care about race and class and privilege (That’s why I write these columns in the first place!). I just choose to display it differently, and I believe they had just as much a right to their own opinions.
To assume that every person in a certain ethnic or cultural category would unconditionally support a given slate of causes is fallacious. The reality is that most Americans’ political preferences are not uniformly attached to any single party or ideology. That is why there were Rockefeller Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats until each party’s base began to increasingly apply purity tests.
The vitriol many of us encounter regarding political issues sometimes may be because we are college students –– the time during our lives when we are perhaps the most radical –– but that doesn’t mean it’s a healthy way to persuade people.
Take this New York Times story about a man who cut himself off from all the news in the world after the election of Donald Trump and lives a solitary existence on a pig farm in Ohio. A former corporate executive, Erik Hagerman deliberately avoids all form of current events –– what he calls “The Blockade” –– even going as far as asking his relatives and friends to not talk about politics and listening to white noise at the cafe to avoid overhearing political conversation.
Some in the comments section of the article criticized Hagerman for shirking from his duties as a citizen to be informed and benefitting disproportionately from his white and class privilege. These are valid points. Women, people of color, as well as anyone without the disposable income to hire a financial adviser in San Francisco to take care of their assets cannot enjoy Hagerman’s luxury.
Yet who are we to judge Hagerman? Most of us read or watch the news but are too powerless and/or lazy to do anything about it. There are so many of us, upon hearing of some great injustice in this world, who would rather sit down and watch Netflix than go protest or run for office. He is the extreme version of those of us who may have political views but want to stay silent and go on with our lives.
Though Hagerman may have isolated himself from society, he does contribute something to this world. He is currently planning to restore land around an abandoned strip mine and leave it for future generations to enjoy. That is his civic contribution, he claims.
This is not to say there is something wrong about not doing “enough.” We are all students, workers, parents, guardians who in the end need to make the grade and wait for our paychecks to arrive. And even among those of us who are active in the political arena, there are people who cannot voice their personal opinion — think about the news reporters at this very paper, whose silence is a tool that conveys neutrality.
As for me, I am just a columnist for my college newspaper. My piece is merely an appetizer to the more important feature article in The Statement. Yet if even one person reads this and changes their perspective on things, I feel like I’ve fulfilled a sufficient amount of my civic duty.
In the end, what matters is not whether you’re a good liberal or good conservative, or even that you make a statement. Rather, for those of us that are not the most active, popular or outspoken, we should do our best to be a good human being and benefit others by doing what we do best. For Hagerman, it’s the environment. For me, it’s writing. What’s your contribution?