Trent Hagan: Students shouldn’t be silent

A sense of political fervor we haven’t seen in years is sweeping the nation. The “Occupy” protests have shown us that one of the most effective ways to get a message out is to still stand in solidarity and shout it.

Yet the streets of Foggy Bottom remain silent.

GW’s protesting presence is negligent, at best. The student body should protest to make its voices heard and its interests public.

And we are in the perfect place to do that: the White House, Capitol Hill and the Supreme Court are all short walks from campus.

The two largest political student groups on campus, the College Democrats and College Republicans, tend to refrain from protesting. And with the highest membership numbers of any political student organizations and huge Student Association allocations, in many ways, the two groups set the tone for political activity on campus.

College Democrats spokesperson Shiah Shahmohammadi told me that the organization has not protested this semester and does not plan to anytime soon. Chris Wassman, a spokesperson for the College Republicans, expressed similar sentiments.

But that strikes me as particularly ironic. Earlier this year, the College Republicans joined with the Young America Foundation, Knights of Columbus and Newman Center to criticize the University for selecting Bill Maher to speak at Colonials Weekend 2011. But they didn’t “boo” from the ranks of the audience. They didn’t take a stand outside the Marvin Center. They didn’t hand our fliers notifying the student body of the University’s error in judgment.

Instead, they addressed a letter to University President Steven Knapp demanding an apology for inviting the inflammatory comedian to speak at the Smith Center.

No such apology has been issued.

This was a missed opportunity on the part of the College Republicans to stir up some real conversation on a topic about which they feel strongly. But it’s not their fault as much as it’s symptomatic of GW’s political culture.

The Princeton Review ranked GW as the most politically active institution in the nation this year. The University sees visits from political figureheads on almost a weekly basis, from Howard Dean to Newt Gingrich to the president of the United States himself. The political organizations on campus bring together speakers for debates and lectures, and they rally their members to campaign for candidates at all levels.

But these are signs of a politically passive – not active – environment. Even if there are a few students here or there joining up with city protests, it is not a part of our own campus culture to be sparking them.

It’s somewhat disappointing to see students turning to e-mail listservs and executive board meetings to discuss the biggest issues that face our generation. At a place like GW, where politics is practically a sport, students should be painting their chests and shouting their views from the rooftops.

If the student body continues to avoid protesting and student activism in deference for polite conversation, then we will passively allow our futures to happen to us. It is our obligation, particularly in the nation’s capital, to take more initiative on the issues facing us today, regardless of where we sit on the aisle.

Otherwise, we might be stuck with a lifestyle we didn’t ask for.

Trent Hagan, a freshman majoring in political science, is a Hatchet columnist.

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