What ever happened to political activism?

If this is the most steadfast, politically active time in our lives, why do we bicker rather than build? Through the variations within and between political groups, there is a single operative concept here: the collectiveness of activism. This concept has taken a backseat to personal politics, which has, in effect, turned everyone off. Namely, I am talking about the struggle between the political groups on campus.

Campus organizations educate students and offer opportunities for involvement. Politics, on the other hand, is innately dog-eat-dog; a fierce struggle through which progress is systematically achieved. Political groups on campus are fighting for different policy prescriptions, mirroring the struggle of national politics. It is not that Republicans and Democrats care about different issues; rather, it is that they have different ways of getting there. Whereas healthy antagonism spawns competition and growth, blanket remarks and lack of alliances turn people off from the political world altogether. While it may be fun to call each other “tree-hugging, Birkenstock-wearing quacks” or “ignorant Jesus freaks,” the important thing is to understand why people are the way they are. The idea here is not to blur political lines, but rather to recognize common goals and distinguish them when collaborating would benefit both groups more than an ideological debate.

The differences exist not only between parties, but also within the parties themselves. Sam Segall, the social chair for the College Republicans states that “the Republican Party is an umbrella, including a wide array of strong conservatives, moderates to socially liberal, fiscally conservative minds.” I urge people to understand these differences within each party before writing them off altogether. The bottom line here is the heterogeneous style of political parties, which allows different policy prescriptions with the same party stamp.

Another factor is that national and local politics deal with different kinds of issues. On matters of offshore oil drilling, tenant rights and homelessness, local candidates and organizations — while their affiliated party disagrees nationally – will remain loyal to their constituency.

Even in national politics, political opponents may join forces in times of crisis, such as the joint tsunami relief effort across partisan lines by both former President Clinton and President Bush on Jan. 4. Quite simply, it is through focusing on what is appropriate in these different times, rather than the differences in each other, that real power can be created.

So why even have political parties? We are part of the world at large; only through using systems and institutions can people understand each other on a broad level. They are useful but we need to rethink how to use them effectively. The traditional order of the political process includes the development of ideology, choosing a candidate and then favoring a particular policy, depending on the candidate. Smart politics, however, suggests the contrary. It encourages focusing on issues then choosing the political platform as the envelope to seal the ideas and push reform. Again, there is a difference found between the different politics people practice versus those that politicians practice. While politicians work to strengthen party loyalty to clarify issues, sometimes at a price, people should educate themselves on the issues and the methods of each party. The goal is to somehow find a balance between political strength and issue-based policy between politicians and the people so that the focus is on the future, rather than differences in each other.

The solution on campus is clear communication fostered through alliances. The focus must shift toward local issues and being politically active — not only under political party lines, but also through organizations that promote similar ideals.

We should ask ourselves how we are going to defeat the puppet-like, political squandering that we so protest in the world — and in ourselves.

The bottom line is that if we cannot work together and communicate on issues that really do matter here, then how do we do this outside this ivory tower?

We have a few years to be UCSB students, and then we are off. When we leave, wouldn’t it be nice to see something we actually did rather than something we created controversy over?

Sally Marois is a UCSB student.