At Yale, you can find someone passionate and enthusiastic and involved in just about any issue. For many of us, though, our school’s prevailing progressive political atmosphere can make us complacent.
I only realized this after I spent time with the Virginia Young Democrats (VAYD) this past weekend. On Saturday, I left Yale for Richmond to attend the Virginia Young Democrats Convention, where I had been invited to speak.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but what I found was a sense of enthusiasm and a political community that is rare to come by in our blue-state bubble.
Heading down to the convention, however, I thought these Young Dems might be apathetic about the upcoming election. After all, I thought of Virginia as a state that usually goes red, a state with a very conservative governor, a state that began the recent assault on birth control when the state’s legislature proposed that women considering an abortion be subject to mandatory transvaginal ultrasounds — a state, in short, where being an outspoken Democrat might not make you too popular.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. I realized this when each delegate who spoke to the convention had the whole hall chanting a newly adopted motto: “Can’t stop, won’t stop.”
Though I had anticipated the VAYD would be a group of smart but apathetic and cynical kids, I realized that a group of Democrats like that wouldn’t get far in Virginia. I asked one delegate, a 20-year-old guy from Mechanicsville, Va., how he became a Democrat and about his experience as a Democrat in a typically conservative area. He said his mother was a Republican and he was brought up that way, but when he got interested in government, he realized that Democrats were “more accepting of many different kinds of people.” He said, too, that while he thought his generation was more liberal than prior ones, he still couldn’t talk comfortably about certain issues, like gay rights, among most Virginians.
But what really grabbed me was when he explained that he and his fellow Young Dems “have a deep sense of urgency because we know that if we do nothing, then we risk letting people have a very poor quality of life.”
I realized that I don’t feel this way most of the time, but I should. I’ve always been in an environment saturated with Democrats, and because we aren’t constantly challenged, we feel little urgency, we struggle to be enthusiastic and we can get lazy.
Now, that’s not to say that some people at Yale aren’t excited by and invested in politics. But the sense of community, the level of urgency, the can’t-stop-won’t-stop attitude that I saw in Virginia is hard to find here. How could this be true at a university as progressive as ours in a state as blue as Connecticut? Consider that, if you are like me and strongly support gay marriage, at Yale, the so-called Gay Ivy, you might not feel like you are risking “letting people have a very poor quality of life” if you don’t fight for these rights. In Connecticut, recently ranked the best state in the country for women to live and work, the threat of mandatory invasive ultrasounds isn’t even on the horizon.
Perhaps that sense of urgency can be found among Republican organizations on campus. I wouldn’t know — though it would make sense — but my point is not that we need to be more like Virginia or that most Yalies are lazy. Rather, we should try to challenge ourselves to figure out what we really care about and then get excited about it together.
If what excites you is the Democratic Party and the 2012 election, great. If it’s environmental action, that’s great, too. No matter what political cause compels us, we should always feel as though it’s being threatened. We should use these causes, whatever they are, to bring people together and get each other excited about our role, so we feel like we can’t stop and won’t stop.
Jack Schlossberg is a freshman in Trumbull College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.