Politics can often make young people run away like that herd of buffalo that escaped a nearby farm and swam across the Hudson River last week. The negative campaigning, partisan bickering, disproportionate power of special interests, and many other systemic flaws can be tiring.
Seeing it in action at the most local of levels can disintegrate some of that cynicism, however.
Last week, candidates for Student Senate offices scoured the campus and gathered support, leading to the biggest turnout in recent years for a Hudson Valley student election. While national trends slide toward lower participation, here we have proof that individuals making a big effort to get involved can bump the curve.
A Harvard University Institute of Politics poll found that trust levels of government institutions among millennials are trending precipitously downward. Only 18 percent of those surveys considered themselves politically engaged.
The problem here might be the associations we make with the concept of politics. It’s often a definition that is totally Washington-centric.
In reality, politics extends far beyond that. While the discussions often focus on the gamesmanship and problems of Congress, the foundations of our system are geared toward the power of the public. Politics isn’t just voting or advocacy on the issues of the day, but it is a person deciding to live their life with consciousness and a purpose to have their say in how society develops.
This Student Senate election season showed that many among us are willing to participate when it involves our immediate environment — nearly 650 students voted. Beyond that, it showed that a few people hitting the ground and attempting to mobilize others can quickly build a more involved culture.
Last week had a different feel on campus, one of activism. With that said, the norm around here is more in line with the national studies and statistics that indicate a lack of political engagement across the country, particularly among young people. We’ve had a handful of events throughout the year where the number of students in attendance was minimal. The general awareness of the Student Senate, and other organizations like The Hudsonian for that matter, is not usually very high.
The fall election for Freshman Class President had a turnout of zero, which of all things this year best illustrates the problem of low participation.
But the activity and buzz that accompanied this election showed that when students put forth the effort, they can produce a resulting spike in engagement. Next year, the winners of this election should treat their time in office like a continuous campaign to keep students engaged and increase participation in events and activities.
Building a culture of participation and involvement at Hudson Valley can spill into the Capital Region as students graduate and enter professional life. Politics can be transformed from the perceived negatives of Washington to positive action at the local level.
Those buffalo were killed. It was sad. Running away from the ability we have to reconsider what politics means and neglecting the power it allows us kills opportunities to improve everything from the Hudson Valley Student Senate to the United States government.