Going into your freshman year of college, “What is your major?” often becomes the question that defines your identity.
This is why, when going through the end of high school and beginning of college, I was always hesitant to answer. When I did tell people my major, I was distraught to find myself constantly doubted and given the same one-word question: “Why?”
“Why, given the dysfunction of Washington, would you study a system that is broken beyond repair?” The question often felt synonymous with what they were harping back at me. At first, it felt invasive; it was as if they were trying to undermine my position to take on political science as a major, deeming me either “too ambitious” or “too naïve.”
And yet, this interrogating “why” soon began to fuel a deeper sense of purpose.
I believe in the power of positive change and that politics is the best vehicle to help people. While I respect the right of those who want to ridicule me with stark cynicism and call that idea unrealistic, I can't imagine any subject more meaningful to study. Here is my “why”:
We are a nation of overwhelming disenfranchisement. Our trust levels are low and our levels of skepticism are high. We are disillusioned and frustrated, claiming we must abandon the system as a whole. But it’s not about re-creating the political system; it’s about re-envisioning it.
Rather than giving up on the future of our political system, I believe young people should become more interested in studying politics, not less. Government has the capacity to create a better reality for us all; we should be devoting time and resources to studying how the next generation can work for change and political prosperity — both academically rewarding opportunities.
It is also time to debunk the seriously skewed myth that the study of politics is only a suitable path for those who eventually want to run for office. While there are half a million positions of elected office beyond the steps of Capitol Hill or 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the skill sets, critical reasoning, and life experience attained from studying politics are much more meaningful than just running on a ballot, and can be utilized across almost any discipline. Being an advocate for change doesn’t mean you need to be institutionalized in any way.
As we build off the momentum of the 2016 election, we need to treat youth in politics as not just a demographic group of electoral support that needs to be gained, but as a serious group of decision-makers that should be respected and listened to. We are not just voters — we are also people with political opinions and ideas that will change not just the future but also the present.
The best way to reinforce discontent around our current political realities is by sitting back and not changing it. Maybe if more people became motivated to study the various facets of political studies, we would have less people complaining about change, and more actually going out and making the change.
Finally, it’s time to stop discouraging young people from studying politics because of our personal beliefs in government. Whether or not we choose to accept it, politics impacts us all. We are all going to have differentiating views; that's just normal. That's democracy! But what our differentiating views should not do is dictate the narrative around young people and their pursuit of politics. It’s not about fitting a party description and it is certainly not about what your parents, your best friends, or Kanye West may think: It’s about what you think and what you want to see changed.
Studying politics is not about attaining power; it’s about changing how we view and distribute power for the better. It’s about helping others and creating a more representational democracy, where everyone is encouraged to pursue politics regardless of gender, race, income, or zip code without being shamed as “too ambitious” or “too forward.”
So please, stop asking me “why” I am studying politics. Instead, you should be asking yourself and those around you why you are not.
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