Last Tuesday, Georgetown University hosted Election Day programming that revealed strong political energy on campus. However, a student body that touts its political engagement should demonstrate this energy more often — and in a more impactful manner.
At the watch party hosted by the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service, students cheered as they tallied each party’s seats, as if the election were a simple competition between Democrats and Republicans without significant real-world implications. Sam Dubke (SFS ’21) wrote in an email to The Hoya that, as a conservative student, “watching the election returns in the HFSC often felt like watching a sports game in the opposing team’s stadium.”
Watch parties portray politics as sport. While these parties allow students to experience the outcome together, the Georgetown community must remember that election results alone do not create policy change.
Political engagement should not be diminished to a seasonal activity. Students who wish to influence policy issues — at Georgetown and in future careers — should approach all elections with the energy they had for the midterms and move beyond voting to activism, engaging directly with issues they are passionate about.
Students should channel their energy to elect representatives and vote on proposed policies they believe in. In 2019, three states will hold elections for governors, four states for state legislatures and seven major cities for mayor; numerous ballot initiatives and local elections will shape policies across every state. These races are more frequently won by few votes because of lower turnout, increasing the significance of each ballot. Students who wish to influence public policy should take advantage of these elections to amplify their voices.
Prior to the midterms, GU Politics voting initiative GU Votes provided drop-boxes and pre-stamped envelopes at Residence Hall Offices for students to request absentee ballots. The initiative also led three trips to the polls on Election Day for students to vote in Washington, D.C. GU Votes should continue these practices in the future — including in years without midterm or presidential elections — to facilitate students’ engagement in local elections.
While GU Politics’ initiatives can remove barriers to voting at Georgetown and connect students with policymakers in D.C., responsibility to take action on policy issues lies with students.
Georgetown brands itself as a university centered on Jesuit values.
“Students are challenged to engage in the world and become men and women in the service of others, especially the most vulnerable and disadvantaged members of the community,” according to the university’s website. However, this message of service is lost when students focus on politics rather than activism.
Activism in the truest sense — working for issues you believe in — aligns with Jesuit values much more strongly than tracking and discussing political outcomes.
Activism is certainly present on campus. Labor rights group Georgetown Solidarity Committee urged the university to uphold its labor standards and end its contract with Nike in 2016. Unrecognized pro-reproductive rights group H*yas for Choice pressured the administration to maintain its contraception coverage after the Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate was rolled back in November 2017. In January 2018, years of student advocacy led by GU Pride elicited the creation of the Crossroads: Gender and Sexuality Living Learning Community.
Not all students have an interest in politics or the time, energy and financial resources this work requires. However, students demonstrating high levels of engagement on Election Day and in other political dialogues should redirect some of this energy to activism. Without taking the leap from being passionate to being involved, students cannot contribute to tangible change.
Students can get involved with activism through a campus organization, attend rallies in D.C., call legislators to voice an opinion on an issue or volunteer for candidates they hope to see elected. No one form of activism is best — but if you care about an issue, do something about it.
On Election Day, Georgetown University College Democrats and the Georgetown University branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People co-sponsored an event on voter suppression, encouraging students to organize and hold leaders accountable for oppressive practices. The weekend after the election, Dubke attended a conference hosted by Young America’s Foundation to inform and inspire his conservative activism. Regardless of party or ideology, students who care about politics can find ways to translate their ideas into action.
Vote in 2019, in primaries and in special elections. But, most importantly, engage in direct activism to make your voice heard on all the days in between. November 2019 is a year away, but a lot of change will take place over the course of the next 12 months — for students who care about the outcome, it’s time to get to work.
Sela Dragich is a sophomore in the College.