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It's not that we don't care

Maybe it’s because I grew up near Washington, D.C., but I naturally assume people are engaged and actively involved in politics because, simply put — Public policy impacts you and everything you do.

But, across campus, many students are not engaged in political action to try to solve the problems we face. For example, both for the special election on Oct. 16 and the general election on Nov. 5, I was expecting to wait in a long line at Icahn to vote — after all, at home I’ve waited in line for over an hour with my parents. Yet, I was in and out of the polls in five minutes. I ran across only one other voter on both occasions.

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And what about the lack of student activism regarding other political issues that have plagued our government recently? There have been no organized protests or petitions on campus, either in response to the government shutdown or the NSA eavesdropping on our conversations, to raise public awareness and show policymakers that we students care about these issues. What about the House refusing to take up the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to end discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity? Doesn’t the lack of student protest about these issues, in addition to low voter turnout, speak to a problem on campus?

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think Princeton students are apathetic. Go up to anyone in the library or dining hall, push the right buttons, and I’m sure he’ll go on for hours, talking your ear off about the fall of the Roman Empire or the discovery of the Higgs boson or, yes, even about his support of gay rights. Students here clearly have issues that they care deeply about.

So, it isn’t a lack of caring in general; it’s a problem with taking political action. Why don’t those full-house political debates at Whig-Clio equate to voting or protests? Even when issues are debated, these discussions do not lead students to take action to change the situation.

Maybe students feel like they will not have much of an impact outside the Orange Bubble. Because within the boundaries of Princeton, students are willing to take a stand. Just consider the “What Is Marriage?” talk by Ryan Anderson — the crowd was full of students peacefully questioning his traditional stance. And other groups work to raise awareness of issues across campus — there are events, tables at Frist, etc. But that’s the problem: The discussion is often limited to campus issues.

Princeton tends to be an extremely isolated community, and the college town isn’t much better. When people feel as though they interact only with other students, they are less likely to try to break out and impact other people. But are we truly living in a bubble? In reality, we are connected to the entire national and global community. Just as the important research that happens here impacts the world, so, too, could student activism. Students might feel as though they cannot do anything because they are trapped by this mythical bubble, but, in reality, there is no actual bubble. It is the use of the phrase “Orange Bubble” that gives legitimacy to being a bystander, but this is merely a case of justifying-by-labeling, and, in reality, our surroundings are not a legitimate justification for inaction.

The limited engagement Princeton students feel with the outside world affects whether and how they take action, but it shouldn’t. The only way people will make a difference is if they think they can make a difference. And it’s time for students to branch out and impact a broader crowd. Just as Princeton research impacts the nation, national issues have real ramifications for Princeton students; we should care more about these broader issues because they really do effect us too. Last month the Supreme Court took up an affirmative action case, and there was barely any discussion of that across campus — an issue that clearly impacts college students. Even the government shutdown affects student life. It temporarily cut off some research funding on campus, and it certainly harms the national economy and effectiveness of our political system, all of which impacts you. Pell Grant funding? Higher interest rates for college loans? That’s all the national government.

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Princeton has prepared us well to debate problems the world faces. But talking isn’t sufficient to make a difference. Students need to take action on the issues they care about. Whether it is small local changes or joining with others to affect national politics, youth can impact change. Just think of the 2008 election, when many of the volunteers who reached out to swing voters were kids who were excited about making a difference. And the youth vote did matter. Were students to organize a protest over major issues, like NSA surveillance or affirmative action, at a school of national prominence, it would attract media interest and capture the attention of key policy makers. So, if there is an issue you care about, think about what you can actually do to make a difference. Then go out and do it.

Marni Morse is a freshman from Washington, D.C. She can be reached at mlmorse@princeton.edu.

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