Pretend for a moment that you are handcuffed inside an icebox and you can’t get out. You start yelling for help. Finally, someone comes to save you; he throws you a couple of blankets and continues on his way. Is this a useless solution to your trouble? Of course it is. It obviously would make much more sense for the savior to have help you out of the icebox.
This logic can be analogized to service-oriented student groups on campus. Many of these organizations focus on ameliorating the side effects of a socially unjust plight, leaving the policies and institutions that create the injustice in the first place unchallenged. In other words, these organizations spend virtually all their efforts giving metaphorical icebox-prisoners blankets, instead of helping them out.
Helping groups of people escape their iceboxes is necessary to alleviate society’s social problems – participating in political activity is a good example. The way public schools are funded strongly influences students’ success rates. Health care policies affect what people will receive health insurance and what people will not. Fuel mileage standards and emissions requirements affect the amount we pollute and in turn affect global warming. Tax policies affect how business is conducted and what types of businesses will thrive.
Political policies and social institutions matter. To change these structures it takes political activity, so we must take action to change political institutions and policies if they are not ideal. Raising money and volunteering is an essential step, but definitely not an adequate solution.
Political action doesn’t need to be revolutionary. Campus-based service groups don’t have to organize a rally condemning the Federal Emergency Management Agency for its response to Hurricane Katrina or endorse political candidates according to their platform on global humanitarian aid – and they probably shouldn’t. However, there is still room for campus organizations to become more politically minded.
Organizations rarely spread significant amounts of knowledge about the broader issues affecting their areas of concern or even demonstrate that big-picture issues exist, let alone try to change them. For example, when was the last time Dance Marathon hosted an event regarding the millions of children in this country without health insurance? Buffalo Wild Wings fundraisers and Facebook groups aren’t enough to make a significant impact for any organization.
It’s a shame that politics aren’t brought up more often in service circles because service groups have the fantastic potential to foster political activity. They are extremely approachable, can raise large amounts of money and tend to have efficient organizational processes. Moreover, service-oriented organizations can draw large audiences with their issues.
Who would be more likely to rabble-rouse in favor of more federal funding for cancer research than students involved in Relay for Life? These types of organizations are among the most respectable on campus, but its nonsensical that they don’t try to help their members get more politically active. They might be the organizations best equipped to do so.
Getting political doesn’t have to be unsexy; it can involve participants outside of the College Republicans, College Democrats, Young Americans for Freedom and Students for a Democratic Society. Politics can enhance service models just as service experiences could make politically-based organizations more sincere. Service activities and political activities are both essential for creating a more socially-just society, but both can fare better when combined with the other. Organizations on campus should strive to be politically and altruistically minded.
Not many people doubt that social iceboxes exist or that there are people metaphorically trapped inside of them. Many students have spent many hours trying to reverse this uncomfortable truth by raising lots of money. Others have held numerous protests or spread petitions. It’s time for these camps to combine tactics and create more social change than they already have.
Neil Tambe is an LSA sophomore and a member of the Daily’s editorial board