With one of the most tumultuous presidencies and most evenly split electorates in recent memory, strong feelings of personal responsibility are galvanizing previously apolitical students on all sides. The UC Democrats report a net increase in their listhost membership from 382 to 605 members this year, and organizers were “surprised and impressed” that a number of first-years showed up at 8 a.m. on Saturday of first week to canvass in Wisconsin.
Loren Goldman, a second-year political science Ph.D. student, understands why a college student might not be interested in activism. “There was plenty of activism going on [in college,] but I never really got involved with it,” he said. “The urgency didn’t strike me. Looking back, I was naïve, and kind of turned off by the activists.” Seeing conservative groups on campus led Goldman to activism. “They were groups of self-important people sponsoring panel discussions on the justness of the Bush administration.” Goldman has since become highly involved in the “No More W” campaign on campus. Aya Lewkowicz, a second-year in the College active in the ACLU, Jewish Action, and voter-registration initiatives, has had a striking rearrangement of priorities between high school and college. Although not particularly active politically in high school, she decided that she wanted to spend more time on a “real-life activity.” Lewkowicz maintains that the specific policies of the Bush administration have motivated her to get involved.
Strong opposition to the Bush Administration’s policies have led third-year in the College Megan Wachspress, ACLU and Feminist Majority member, to become more politically active. She said that many people remain uninvolved in politics despite strong feelings because they “feel helpless” or feel that it is something beyond their control. “They feel that things will work themselves out on their own and that their involvement would be meaningless or counterproductive,” Wachspress said. “I want to call out to people to really believe that they can do something. Get involved! Go to a swing state!”
Third-year in the College Jess Lent of “No More W” derived her political motivation from her experience working with Latina youth on the South Side, and her reaction to the Bush administration’s exclusive support of an abstinence-only approach to sex-ed. “Our girls are twelve, thirteen, fourteen. Some of them are sexually active but at the same time don’t know what their period is. So we go in there and try to teach them about birth control, STDs. [ ] I feel like we’re combating this horrible programwe’re battling a big machine essentially.”
Grace Lin, president of the College Republicans, provides an insight into what motivates students to become activists: “My interest in politics was not really galvanized by any particular issue but more of a general view that politics had the potential to shape a better society. There are still so many inefficiencies in the government today. There is still much corruption on all sorts of levels that need to be resolved. I have always felt that being involved politically gives us the chance to confront these kinds of problems.”