Politics? Yes, please.
Politics is messy. Constant reports and speculations of corruption give politics the unique ability to displease and discourage just about everyone.
But, seeing that politics is a mess doesn’t fix it. In other words, knowing that politics are currently ineffective can’t change the fact that politics shape the framework of our country or the fact that the laws that govern our everyday actions bleed into the way we see the world.
It is in this way that politics is omnipresent. For some people, like immigrants and the LGBTQ community, merely existing is “political.” Conversely, it takes a special privilege — the kind where an individual is already institutionally protected, where they can live blind to the urgent need for social change — to say, “politics don’t matter to me.”
As a daughter of poor, Chinese immigrants, I am incredibly lucky to have this special privilege. I have never worried about health care; I have never worried about seeing my family everyday; I have never worried about my place in this country. And, though I have certainly endured distasteful comments about my race and gender, I have never been in a position where I have directly felt institutional oppression. The status quo, while not perfect to me, works for and supports me. So, I can say that I don’t care about politics, accept the status quo and embrace my life of liberty and happiness.
But, I don’t. That’s not to say that I am “holier than thou” and on the frontlines of every political advocacy. Reality is actually quite the opposite. I don’t keep up with every move governing bodies make, nor am I always willing to talk about politics. After all, if I don’t know the facts, am preaching to a choir or feel too hostile to have a discussion, there’s no purpose in having a conversation.
Not being on the political forefront, however, certainly doesn’t make me “apolitical.” The only way to be “apolitical” is to completely remove oneself from engaging in the political system. In contrast, being “political” can exist on a spectrum: sharing views with peers, researching political controversy, going to protests and more.
As a broad generalization, I can say that being any sort of “political” above the absolute baseline of voting is uncomfortable. But, making any progress in any field is uncomfortable. The tough part about politics emerges when views clash. There’s the threat of hurt feelings, awkward tension and bigger, perhaps violent, fights.
But, without the ability to maturely confront different world views, no progress can be made. It’s important to develop the skills to mitigate the possible negativity from political discussion. Admittedly, it’s impossible for every political conversation to go smoothly; in fact, even the most skilled orators will struggle and become uncomfortable when discussing a matter as important and sensitive as politics.
The two concepts — being uncomfortable and being “political” — are deeply intertwined. But if a cause matters enough, that discomfort shouldn’t matter.
Of course, there’s a way to escape the cesspool of politics and discomfort. Being “apolitical” is the easy way out. But, as you go, remember to wave goodbye to making genuine, lasting change.
At the (comfortable) basis of being “political” is simply fulfilling a civic duty and voting.
Of course, no candidate is ever going to completely fulfill the wishes of any one person. So, compromise is necessary. After all, compromise is positive change at best and preventing regression at worst.
And, if you feel like your national vote is just a whisper in the wind, then try state and local elections, where issues are most relevant to the daily lives of citizens. And, if you want your voice to matter more, if you want to vote on “bills and political acts,” then become a politician. An honest one that doesn’t spew cynicism-inducing lies.
Because seeing a problem within the system isn’t a reason to remove yourself from that system. It’s a call to work with the system, fix the system and bring about change.
I’ll concede that yes, there is a distinct difference between being “political” and wanting a positive change. That is, it’s so easy to say that you want to make a difference. But at the end of the day, how?
Successful movements in history, even those that started as grassroots movements, were successful because they were ultimately able to change the law. If you want to make a difference, then face it: politics matter.