The Changing Role of the Student in Political Activism

12 days: that is all that stands between now and Election Day on Nov. 8.

For over a year now, all of the major news outlets, social media platforms, and even elevator conversations have revolved around one topic only: who will be in the White House in 2017?

Personally, this whole cycle has been exhausting, exasperating, and at times, downright absurd. Somehow, an already polarized country has become even more so, to the point where political philosophies have become an identifying moniker that seemingly describes a person’s whole character: a ridiculous assertion in my opinion.

Instead of seeking the best path forward for the country as a whole, much of the campaigning process has been focused on scandal, including the infamous email server kept by the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and the sexual assault accusations against her Republican counterpart, Donald Trump.

As someone who is taking part in my first major election cycle as a registered voter, I have gained a new insight into the repercussions of the election, the role individual demographics play in it, especially students, and the democratic values that govern the whole process. Students, it seems, have played a larger role than usual during this cycle, becoming a significant source of support for candidates like Sen. Bernie Sanders and carrying on the burden of upholding the democratic process as they too join in. These democratic values are the seams that maintain the canvas that is the country together. Without these values, the nation loses its identity.

I have also noticed something else about the role of students in the country. Not since the counterculture moment of the 1960s and 1970s have they played a defining role in setting policy for the country.

At the time, youth activism, fueled by the outrage of the Vietnam War, was at its heyday. Crowds chanting outside of the White House to the now-infamous jeer of “Hey hey LBJ, how many kids did you kill today,” became a common occurrence during the Johnson administration. One of the main causes for disillusionment with the government at the time was many young individuals were being sent to fight and die in a war for causes they did not understand—one fueled by ideological conflicts in remote areas of the world.

Since then, the role of students in the United States, while they have remained active members of civil societies, has receded more toward the traditional function: to take advantage of the time they have to immerse themselves in the pursuit of knowledge to then lead the future generations in a better path. This luxury, as it could be called, is not often afforded to students around the world, where they often have to be the catalysts of political and social change.

Students played a major role during the 2011 Arab spring. Sickened by unappealing future prospects and oppressive regimes, they took to the streets, among millions more, to oust dictators like Muammar Gaddafi in Libya and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. Moreover, this last weekend in Venezuela, where the oppressive government refused to allow the country a constitutionally-mandated recall referendum against President Nicolas Maduro, student organizations led the efforts for massive nationwide protests. These brave youth activists face great perils for taking the stances that they do, often being at the receiving end of targeted violence carried out by both pro-government groups and the regimes themselves, be it in the Middle East or in Latin America.

This is the reality of many around the world, and it should serve as a reminder of our privileged position while giving a new point of view for the stances we can take in support of causes we believe in. Students have the power to effect change in the world, a fact that we must not ignore. We should not be afraid to speak up. It’s not only our right, but also our duty, as members of this society.

Featured Image by Leopoldo Olavarria

About Juan Olavarria 70 Articles
Juan Olavarria is the Metro Editor for The Heights. He is double majoring in Economics and Philosophy. He enjoys watching Liverpool FC and has to frequently remind himself to stop trying to defend the merits of a midfield diamond. You can follow him on Twitter at @Juan_Heights.