Get Up, Stand Up!Julia Gazdag

You guys, I’m really confused. It seems like every time there’s any kind of open political conversation anywhere, the only people who say anything are the crazies. Town hall meetings, blogs, comments on blogs… A couple of weeks ago we did this thing where we asked our readers for questions to give the White House, right after the president announced the Jobs Act.

You guys. Where were your questions? It made me so sad. We have another election in a year and no one my age is talking about it. So I thought about it and came up with the following two brilliant observations, because I’m a mind genius and have brilliant observations (clearly):

Observation #1: People comment and talk about politics when they have a lot of feelings about it. Usually anger. Happy people don’t rant.

Observation #2: Politics is a complex and intimidating subject and a lot of people don’t want to say anything because they’re afraid to be wrong.

So first of all, about the ranting: it’s okay, you can rant. In fact, if you’re not so angry that you can’t see straight, I’d much rather you share your thoughts at length. I can’t deal with crazy people saying crazy things loudly, I don’t have the energy. And the louder we let them shout without responding, the more of a voice they have and then we end up with all sorts of problems. I don’t know about you, but problems are not my beverage of choice.

Second of all, it’s politics – you can’t be wrong. All you can be is quiet and if this is a democracy, then being quiet is wrong. Everyone has an opinion, and chances are they differ from yours. Which is completely okay (except for the aforementioned crazies – I can’t stress this enough, I can’t deal with them). It’s really not as complex as it looks. There are two parties, they have different beliefs on how involved the government should be in the average citizens’ lives and each one has all sorts of personal drama going on, too. Washington is the craziest soap opera ever. But ultimately, if you believe something, voice it. And if you’re confused about something, voice that, too! You’re not the only one and everyone else who’s confused will be glad that someone had the sense to say something about it.

The great thing about something like asking the White House questions isn’t just that you can interact with them. You’re also giving them feedback on what they’re doing and what you think of it. By asking a question, you’re pointing them towards an issue they need to be aware of. You are an individual, but you also represent a chunk of the population. It’s statistics and it works in your favor, because it gives you even more of a voice when you’re the one to speak up.

So tell me guys, honestly: what inspires you to get involved in politics? What doesn’t? Why do you answer or not answer when your voice is asked to be heard? We really want you guys to be able to have a voice, let us know how we can inspire you!!

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  1. Why am I not pumped about politics? Because it is really rather annoying. I do still watch the news, but it always annoys me. I also vote. Sometimes I wonder why I bother because none of them… on BOTH sides… are worth the time of day. Everything in politics seems to revolve around one thing anymore… the politicians and their super big egos. In my opinion, it shouldn’t be that way, it should be about making this country better and COOPERATING with each other (Dems AND Repubs). I’m sure there are some politicians who don’t think that way and are truly there for the people, but the majority that I’ve seen… not so much. I might actually be more interested if it was less “I don’t agree with doing something that will help the country because they’re Democrat/Republican” and more of an actual compromise without these two year olds who get into Congress throwing a tissy because someone on the other side had a good idea. Kinda like how it was impossible for them to pass the budget? It just gives me a headache. And I’d be willing to bet there are several people out there who think the same, or something like it. Honestly, I wouldn’t mind seeing more middle of the road people getting into Congress, the White House, etc. because they would be more likely to work together to figure out compromises without fighting like children. I don’t know though, maybe I’m the only one who sees that. But that’s why I don’t get horribly involved with political anything.

    • Kendra, I couldn’t have said it better. I feel the exact same way you do, about all of it.

      I consider myself a liberal but I really don’t like having to “pick a side.” I see the value in all sides. I too don’t get that involved in politics because everyone seems too consumed with pointing fingers and placing blame and not getting on board with others because they are from the “other side.” It is incredibly tiring and frustrating. I was just talking about all of this with people this past weekend. I am all for standing up and saying something, I just don’t know where to begin. The political system can be very daunting.

  2. As someone who isn’t American, or even lives in America but watches American politics from afar what strikes me is the accusations, the lies and the seeming inability of politicians to do anything good without someone being morally opposed to it (how can so many people be opposed to universal healh care? America is the one of the only industrialized Western democracies without universal health care. I live in one of the countries that provides this service and we all sit back and wonder how a country doesn’t provide this, how so many people don’t want their country to provide it.) Similarly what we see on the news is people disenchanted with Obama, asking why hasn’t he done this, or this, or this, yet people don’t seem to see that the president has to get Congressional approval. Don’t be mad at the person suggesting change, new policies and such, be mad at those people in Congress who refuse to allow these changes to occur. It seems the American people need to demand more of their representatives in Congress, as well as the President.

  3. I was involved in politics for the early part of my career, and its true that it’s really hard to stay up-to-date and informed without spending at least an hour reading the news each day. Its also tough without knowing the history…our schools don’t really do a great job educating us on this stuff. I would recommend starting with Democracy in America, by Alexis de Tocqueville, All Politics is Local by Tip O’Neill (Democrat, Speaker of the House), God and Man at Yale (written in the 50s and basically the foundation of modern conservatism), and Democracy in California, which explains our state system of government. Happy reading!

  4. Thank you for starting this dialogue! A lot of times I am hesitant to rant about politics because I know I only understand the tip of the iceberg. What I do see though is that with the way our government is structured it is incredibly difficult for major legislation or reform to be made and to rightly hold politicians accountable for their actions or inactions. I also think that the United States has an alarmingly high number of people who believe that everyone’s fate is in his or her own hands and not influenced by greater economic or social factors. For example, I think there are far too many people who do not agree with social programs for the poor, sick and/or elderly.

    I’m afraid this next election will be a blame game instead of a time to look for much needed political solutions.

  5. This is a great article! I tend to not get publicly involved in politics because I want to work for the federal government after law school (side note–if anyone needs a lawyer in 2 years in Washington DC or Maryland–HOLLA!!) and I don’t want anything to come back and bite me in the butt. Especially issues like the death penalty (I want to be a criminal prosecutor so my opinion on the issue should be kept to myself). I personally think that it SUCKS that I am hesitate to stand up for what I believe in risk of not getting a job where I can potentially change and work on the political issues that are important to me.

  6. I am actually an Independent as there are some things in both parties I like and dislike. I mostly lean toward Democrat though. I must have missed the request for questions for the White House because I would definitely have chimed in. I have recently become very active. I send emails to the White House and all of my Representatives on a regular basis on many different issues though.
    I am very much afraid that people won’t speak up again this coming election even though it was decisively proven in the last election that all of those voices do make a difference and are heard. Many here seem to have forgotten all that we have striven for to have this privilege of a voice in our government.

  7. I think for many people it can be a little scary voicing opinions on politics; they are intimidated or just don’t want to be perceived as “left” or “right”, this or that. The fact that things are cross-posted from one corner of the web to the other also might scare people away.

    That said, more often than not, I think people become complacent about the state of things…or worse… completely detached. Honestly, I have probably fallen into the complacent category more than I care to admit. When all we hear about is negativity coming from Washington there is this tendency to start ignoring it & to give up on trying to make a difference. “I voted for this person and things didn’t improve all that much so I’m not sure my opinions actually have an effect on things, etc”. It’s such a trap! but it happens all the time. Hopefully, through pieces like this, young people will be more willing to share their opinions and thoughts in a healthy, non-crazies sort of way. I have faith that people want to be involved but sometimes it takes metaphorically shaking someone to wake them up!

  8. Speaking as an outsider, I feel what America needs is a massive political shakeup – I’m not saying that multi-party systems necessarily always work, but essentially they are slightly better systems than the current two-party model in the US. It seems preposterous to me that a country so vast and so diverse in opinion and culture and ethnicity and wealth and education is forced to conform to Republican, Democrat or abstention/third party/ballot spoiling.

    Politics has long been viewed as something stuffy for middle-aged white men to deal with. What it is in reality is interesting, challenging, ever-changing, and yes, occasionally scandalous and crazy (Berlusconi, anyone?). It’s a huge pity that people are disengaged from politics, but I believe it is through no fault of their own – instead, the majority of people in the United States and indeed the world as a whole are faced with an entirely uninspiring crew of losers to lead them.

    • I hear you, but the two-party system was created to ensure that the president will be someone whom a majority of the voters voted for. The founders didn’t want a multi-party system where someone could conceivably still win the election while only getting 20% of the votes. That would make for a weak president, and if things are gridlocked now, imagine if there were four or five legitimate parties to deal with.

  9. And I try my best to keep up with current events and to learn more about history, but there’s just SO MUCH in this world. SO many cultures and perspectives to hear & learn from. I don’t even know where to start most of the time.

  10. I think it can intimidating and daunting to involve yourself in political discussion if, like me, you hate sounding uninformed. Being informed is also a daunting task.

    I’m a college student. In my experience, there are 3 types of people you hear in political discussions in class. 1) the obnoxious outspoken person who doesn’t actually know anything 2) the sensible informed person who somehow knows everything in world history and is basically a walking encyclopedia of logic and rationalism 3) the person who wants to avoid sounding like person 1 and doesn’t know how to begin gaining the knowledge that person 2 has, and so instead decides to not say anything to avoid reducing the conversation or sounding simplistic.

  11. http://whattheheckhasobamadonesofar.com/?q=35
    a pretty simple way to see what’s been going on in our government the past few years.

  12. my problem is that i have lots of questions but never feel like i can get a straight answer- i either get the right opinion or the left opinion and then i have to somehow merge the two sides of the story into my own “truth” and then form MY opinions, and that is stressful ahah
    plus it feels like once people have a set opinion, they won’t listen to anyone else’s ideas/ modify their own which makes it really difficult to have a productive political discussion with someone (especially when everyone is considered “crazy” if they don’t agree with you)

  13. As a liberal democrat who fairly recently relocated to Houston, TX, I’ve found that my willingness to publicly express my opinions has been drastically undercut. Most of TX is notably conservative, and I’ve found that my opinions are often met with hostility and judgment. While I respect the traditional, ideological foundation of conservatism, I feel like political discussions are rarely based on ideology or academic points of view and instead are enshrined with personal attacks and finger-pointing. I have very little tolerance for those sorts of discussions. Furthermore, when I express opinions grounded on traditional liberal doctrine (peace, humanity, rehabilitation, fairness), I feel like many people respond by finding those notions “cute” or “naive” or “feminine.” And, since that just makes me want to kick them in the balls, I avoid those conversations as well.

  14. You are pretty right on, Julia. No one is speaking up. I have lots of thoughts and views, but never really know what to say when someone asks me things about politics. I hate getting into arguments because there are definitely some things I am passionate about: gay marriage, HIV prevention research, women’s equality. Basically, human rights. And, honestly, we were given a lot of promises during the last election, and while I realize it’s a hard job for anyone, I don’t feel like he’s come through. And, it saddens me because, while I wasn’t expecting to wake up the day after Obama was inaugurated and the streets be paved in gold, I was hoping for something more. We have unemployment, we BARELY got Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repealed, and we still have people overseas, where they should not be. So, honestly, it’s hard to say anything because, I just don’t have it in me to scream and fight. I know that I should. And, I try to do my part, but maybe I just feel guilty for feeling tired?

  15. Why am I involved in politics? As a scientist, I am pretty much dependent upon the government to fund my research. I write my senators and representatives monthly to advocate the role of science in job development and keeping America competitive with developing countries. Unfortunately I view it as a necessary evil.

    What turns me off? Well, the fact that I realize that our government is terribly inefficient. I am used to working in an environment where people are forced to be as objective as possible. So much of current law and media is rooted in basic human emotion and nature. While I understand that human nature is a powerful force, politics should not use this as a motivator. A prime and recent example is Michelle Bachmann’s recent statement on the HPV/cervical cancer vaccine. While I’m all for personal choice, politicians tend to exaggerate reality, i.e. taking a treatment used to prevent disease and turning it into a diabolical virus being injected into an innocent little girl. This rhetoric and general lack of objectivism is what is most frustrating to me.

  16. Plenty of “loonies” on the left too! Also, it’s been two years, is it okay to expect something from Obama now or should I wait a little longer?

    Sincerely,
    A Conservative “Loonie”

    • Girl, as a liberal myself, I agree with you, actually. Both sides have their crazies. I don’t want to speak for Jen Benz, but I will say that I don’t think anyone means to imply that anyone who is on the right or is a conservative is a loonie. I must admit, though, most (and again, not all!) of the loudest voices of unreason are coming from the right at this point in time. Ultimately I think the most important thing is to veer away from all this partisan bickering and find a way to work together on the things everyone needs!

  17. I have to say, my involvement and enthusiasm have waned over the years because no one cares or can even hear my non-newsworthy middle of the road voice over the screams and put downs from the loonies on the right and left. I feel like there is no space for me.

    • I understand exactly where you’re coming from, and that’s exactly why I think voices like yours count. And think about it — every election, it’s the swing voters, the middle-of-the-road folks who count the most.

      Julia Gazdag | 9/22/2011 12:09 pm
  18. What upsets me is that everyone expected SO much from Obama right away, I know that all of his choices have not been great, and there is a lot to be disappointed in, but I think it is important to remember the mess he is trying to clean up, while dealing with new issues daily. I really hope to see more people giving him the change to really make a difference, instead of being angry that he couldn’t do it in 5 seconds flat. He’s not an iphone, there is no ap for fixing an entire country. I am happy to see you are getting the conversation going. If we want politicians to care about the youth vote, then we need to show them we care!

  19. “Second of all, it’s politics – you can’t be wrong.”

    You can’t be wrong, but you can be uninformed, which is what I think is mostly the problem. If more people took the time to try to understand what is going on, they might have more opinions and questions about it. I know what inspires me to get involved in politics, but I don’t know how to inspire the scary number of people who just don’t seem to care.

  20. THANK YOU for this! This is excellent. We have to get the dialogue going. As disappointing as the Obama admin has seemed so far, it’s a heck of a lot better than all those loonies on the Right. We can’t be apathetic now! We gotta start talking and get out and vote in hoards next November. Last nights execution of Troy Davis only shows that we have a long way to go. I can go on and on….. I’m excited to get the talkin’ started! X, Sarah Sophie

    • I think phrases like “all the loonies on the right” are what shuts down dialogue. Not everyone on the right (or the left) is crazy, and to label people as such, you’re attacking them personally and not responding to their ideas. People of ALL political stripes read this blog, so I think if we want a real dialogue we need to shut down mean characterizations ASAP.