As classes wind down and the summer approaches, many Yalies are counting down the days until they can eliminate thinking from their daily schedules. Indeed, with a beer on the beach it can be all too tempting to tan and tune out any reminder of the real world this summer. Current events can seem distant, news faraway. Not that it seems much different even when we are on campus. It’s one of the great paradoxes of Yale: students who can argue so passionately about a philosophical tenet or a historical event have little inclination to read about the history being made every day.
When we do follow the news, it’s generally to follow some specific cause. But keeping up with the news, and especially with politics, just for the sake of keeping well-informed about the daily events that shape politics, the nation, and the world seems a foreign concept. For some reason, Yalies and newspapers don’t mix. We consider ourselves far too jaded, cynical or hipster to follow the news on a daily basis, or even — gasp — to vote.
But rather than let our intellects and energies languish over our four-month vacation, this summer, with the obligations of paper-writing and reading responses far away, is a great time to get more involved with the world — not less. For instance, this fall’s elections present a unique opportunity for engaging with the world this summer. With its dramatic Democratic primaries and the close race we seem promised in the fall, it’s refreshing that the 2004 election is mobilizing those who were more apathetic in 2000. Students spending their summer campaigning in swing states as part of 2004ward are one example of this, but students could even serve themselves, and the country, just by keeping up with politics instead of ignoring it.
All too often it seems like Yalies write off the importance of politics. Sure, three of the last four presidents have been Yalies, and this fall’s winner will be as well. But students still seem to discount the importance of voting and of the political process itself. At a campus that is so notoriously activist, Yale seems disturbingly apolitical. We have the tendency to protest for the sake of protest but do not actually engage with the political system to work for the reforms we advocate. How many times have we all signed petitions for one good cause or another on our way out of our dining halls? And how many times have we actually made it to the voting booths on election day?
A protest or petition to raise awareness about an issue means nothing without the Election Day votes to advance that cause. Yale students love to villanize “the system” and “the institution.” But when “the system” means democracy that presumes the involvement of the people, it seems absurd to ignore it. It’s popular to deride the government, but one cannot at the same time refuse to be a part of the election process that creates it. There’s a place for both activism and politics. But without the politics, activism won’t change anything. A protest has power, but so does a vote. It seems like Yale students could stand to make a little room for both.