Students and activism can go together like peanut butter and jelly. From ending the Vietnam War to fighting for women's empowerment, the voices of students have tremendous power to impact the nation's policies. Many student-led revolutions do not contain the consistent force of corporations and campaign donors in deciding public policy. In “Follow the Money Trail,” a discussion hosted by Democracy Matters, students and faculty freely conversed about the impact “big money” has had on the political spectrum, particularly through campaign financing.
The crisis of democracy, according to this event, is that all voices are not equal; the voices of those with a financial advantage rise above others in the nation, decreasing the political efficacy of students and lower income citizens.
“[Office holders] owe their allegiance to the people who funded their campaigns, instead of their voters,” special guest Joan Mandle said. Mandle is the executive director of Democracy Matters and led the talk along with professor of sociology Denise Scott.
The question that naturally arose was how to raise the interest and impact of students in our nation's political climate.
According to Scott, the best way to encourage political activism such as voting and remaining up-to-date with current events is to join clubs such as Public Interest Research Groups and Democracy Matters.
“It would help students feel like they can do something,” Scott said.
“You're uniquely positioned to be involved,” she added. In college, students have very few outside responsibilities besides their own wellness and education, leaving relatively open schedules for pursuing interests and creating changes in the world.
“Young people have a lot to say and a lot to give,” Mandle said. When it comes to areas that are not priorities of corporations and private donors, such as environmentalism and higher education, she believes that groups of citizens coming together and demanding change are the best hope to improve them.
In order to make this happen, Scott and Mandle agreed that providing information to students is necessary to substantially increase their involvement in the political process.
“Right now we're stressing education,” President of Democracy Matters senior Kevin Castañeda said.
Advertising elections and voter registration, “dorm storming,” awareness weeks and public lecture and discussions all help provide information to students - information that might inspire them to take action on something they feel passion for.
The hope is that hearing about problems such as corruption will inspire students to actively fight for changes. Even something as simple as registering to vote or signing a petition can help a cause.
Since “college students are just perfect to get politically active,” as Castañeda said, since we are young, we have time and we are invested in our own future. Students are fighting for the power to make real change, and everyone is encouraged to join.
“We have to empower ordinary citizens to speak up and have an effect,” Mandle said.