Melissa Holzberg:Students, take advantage of the lull in political activism

Not everything has to be a political spectacle. And it seems that GW is getting that message.

We’re a year away from the 2016 presidential election and candidates have been spewing their stump speeches and gearing up for debates and primaries since March. But now that we’re just months away from caucuses, I came back to GW this fall expecting to hear about the election and political rivalries everywhere I went.

Rather than hearing about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton around every corner, though, freshmen I’ve met have told me about their gap years filled with community service and art history classes. It’s not that students on campus have all of a sudden lost their drive for activism and debate. Instead, it seems we’ve all learned to protest when an issue demands it, and talk about politics when a situation changes.

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Melissa Holzberg

One of the reasons I came to GW was to express myself politically but also mindfully. In this political lull before the election heats up, it’s good for us all to reflect on why being “political” isn’t always better.

In a few months, our political situation will start to change. Perhaps we’ll slowly see faces disappear from our televisions as candidates drop out of the race, and maybe we’ll see two candidates from opposing sides of the aisle rise to the forefront. But that’s not what the situation is now, and frankly, it’s right that we are enjoying it.

An April 2015 story in The Wall Street Journal points to the idea of the permanent campaign dampening excitement and continued interest in presidential elections. Michael Barone writes that with such an early onslaught of campaigning, it’s “too much, too soon” and that Americans find the news coverage to be tiresome. For comparison, the United Kingdom’s last election process took 38 days.

We start to care when things start to change. When a new candidate enters the race, we care. And when primaries begin, I have no doubt that GW students, including myself, will stay up late to see who wins each state.

“We really are still a long way out from the election. On the Democratic side, you’ll probably see a lot of female students start getting behind Hillary. But as far as Republicans go, there’s still no clear person who’s going to be the nominee. Right now we’re still waiting for things to shape up,” Charles Dolan, the senior vice president of KGlobal communications and a former adjunct professor of media and public affairs said. “Once we get closer and things get clearer, that’s when students will get involved.”

Debate about politics at GW should also be a long way off. Student Association elections aren’t until the spring, so students have some time before they have to start thinking about that part of our political world.

It’s important to have time on campus that doesn’t focus on politics and protest. Last year, sexual assault prevention demanded student activism on campus. When students carried mattresses across campus, officials paid attention and committed to in-person sexual assault prevention training. But students have made a good decision by not lumping each social issue into that category.

“When students protest about something, it’s really important to find something that relates to their campus,” Dolan said. “If a school has had a shooting or sexual assault issue, that’s usually when students get together.”

Sometimes, politicizing things doesn’t change anything. What’s more important to recognize is when to protest, and when to let numbers and news reports speak for themselves. When you protest everything, you lessen the effects of each protest.

Right now is the time to talk about your language course, art class or something off the beaten path. For people like me, politics will always be our go-to. But, when that becomes all you think about, you forget the other reasons you came to college. Student activism is important and can lead to change. But sometimes it has the adverse effect and dampens the reality of change.

I will never forget my first dinner on campus last year when one of my new friends started a conversation by asking my political affiliation. I’ll also never forget walking past the die-in in Kogan Plaza last December. Those conversations and those statements can be positive and even needed. But college – even college in the middle of D.C – is more than politics and student activism.

Melissa Holzberg, a sophomore majoring in political communication, is The Hatchet’s contributing opinions editor. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.

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