Ready to be Engaged in Politics

By: Caroline Guy, TWC Media Intern from Baldwin Wallace University

It’s no secret that I’m generally not a politically involved person.

Growing up, I was concerned about issues, especially social ones, but I never had the desire to get down into the roots of politics and become politically active.

I left that to friends of mine like Nathan who, when asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, said with conviction “President of the United States.” My answer: “I have no idea.” Nathan is working in the Illinois Chamber of Commerce; I am still exploring my options.

In my mind, the path Nathan took was the only way to be involved in politics: You were either a hard core follower of all things Capitol Hill or you were not involved at all.

But after two internship experiences with The Washington Center, first at the Republican National Convention and now at the Inauguration ‘17 seminar, I’ve learned that being involved is not just diving in head first and dedicating your life to politics; it’s about being an active citizen, and it is very important.

Reflecting on the past two weeks and the notes that I’ve taken, I’ve realized that almost every speaker in the auditorium and during site visits has spoken about the importance of being involved and active as a citizen.

Documentary filmmaker Julie Winokur talked about being involved so we can gain experience and have meaningful conversations. Matthew Gravatt from the Sierra Club spoke of writing to and calling our representatives to push them to stand up for what the people want. Professors Michael Dyson and George Carr mentioned the importance people from all races getting involved in the discussion of race. David Bier at the CATO Institute said informing ourselves about global issues and holding our representatives and leaders accountable was essential. The Atlantic Council’s Barbara Slavin talked about standing up for our rights as Americans and standing up for our fellow Americans.

And that’s only a few of the people we’ve heard from.

So when you have people from different backgrounds and political affiliations saying the same thing, it might be safe to assume that it’s a message we should be listening to.

Now, my role in this “be active, stand up, help make change” idea will probably be different than the role of most people at this seminar. As a communications major and someone who is just now becoming interested and informed politically, I am not looking to rush to a party meeting or become a party leader. I am not necessarily looking to go door to door campaigning for candidates (unless the right one comes along!). But there is no question that I have an important role and obligation to play.

So what does that look like for me?

This is something I’ve struggled with during this inauguration seminar. Hearing time and time again to get involved but not knowing how to do is frustrating. But when listening to speakers and hearing from faculty members, it’s become clear that one of the cool things about being an American is that I get to choose what my involvement looks like.

It took several speakers, and site visits and tourism sites to help me realize that social issues are at the core of what I am concerned about.

Listening to Slavin talk about Iran, the Middle East, and Syria, and visiting the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum showed me that I am passionate about helping people. I can shape my political involvement around making sure people get the help they need, but in a sustainable way that works with the system. Or, if the system is not working, I can look at how I can help change it so that it benefits everyone.

Listening to Dyson and Carr and going to the Brazilian embassy helped me understand that I do have a voice in conversations where I might not fit demographically. There is a way for me do that that is beneficial and productive. I can go back to Baldwin Wallace University and go out into the Cleveland community to help all kinds of people, especially if we are different.

Of course, listening to journalists Alexis Simendinger, Ed O’Keefe, and Steve Scully talk about the role of media and then writing journalistic pieces for The Washington Center throughout has showed me the power of the media in politics. I can help make sure that this role is productive and brings truth to the people. I’ve even considered studying journalism in more depth and moving professionally in that direction.

So at this point you’re probably thinking ‘sure, this is a great and idealistic revelation that sounds too good to be true.’ Trust me, I have no expectation that I’m going back to Cleveland, fixing every problem and taking the political world by storm. I’ve learned through TWC that if I want to help make change, it’s going to be hard. It takes a dedicated person to stick with it and see the change through to the end.

What I have learned though is that even though this is going to be hard, it will be well worth it. Sure, the 2016 campaign highlighted many of America’s problems. But we’ve also heard from people who are very passionate about America and her success. This week has shown me that it is possible to be critical of America but still want the best for the country.

I don’t expect to fix things just by being more involved; but I return home with a new excitement and perspective into the complex world of politics and why it’s so important to care. At the very least I can talk to other people and get them to care. If I’m lucky, I will carry this inspiration for a long time and use it for bigger things.

But caring is a first step. And thanks to the speakers and visits at this seminar I find myself caring more and more.
That girl who had no interest in politics is now engaged and informed, and willing to jump into the political realm.

Democracy isn’t easy. But with more information and more perspective I can make it an itty-bitty bit easier by becoming active. As politician and physician Walter Judd said, “People often say that, in a democracy, decisions are made by a majority of the people. Of course, that is not true. Decisions are made by a majority of those who make themselves heard and who vote – a very different thing.”

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