Who did that much work over Spring Break? I know I didn’t. I kept telling myself that I would, although I mostly ended up reading, planning my summer and catching up on the news.
I mainly read articles about the election.
As the election season heats up, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that the candidates are unimpressive. In 2011, when Donald Trump demanded to see President Barack Obama’s birth certificate, I never would have imagined that he would now be leading the Republican primaries. Surely, the former host of “Celebrity Apprentice” would never be a viable presidential candidate for most Americans. I was wrong.
But, in spite of Trump’s volatility and inexperience, he still continues to win a number of primaries (although he seriously trails behind Hillary Clinton LAW ’73 in nationwide support, according to a March 21 CNN poll). His inconsistent and abrasive statements — on everything from immigration to women’s rights — make me cringe, but I’m not the only one. His inability to appeal to women, nonwhite and college-educated voters is causing friction amongst Republicans.
While some may find Republican candidate Ted Cruz more palatable, I find him to be just as unappealing because of his fundamentalist views on religion, his promises to repeal universal healthcare and his denial of women’s reproductive rights. Although John Kasich — who appears to be the most moderate of the three — continues to hang on, the reality is that he’s only won Ohio so far.
I know that many self-identified champions of the right may read this as an attack on the Grand Old Party, but I’m not exactly moved by the Democrats either. Although Gloria Steinem, Lena Dunham and others have championed Democratic front-runner Clinton for her political experience and her identity as a woman, some of her positions on foreign policy and race give me pause. Clinton’s support for the “Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994,” which was passed under her husband’s presidency, largely institutionalized mass incarceration in the nation. In addition, candidate Bernie Sanders’s initial lack of focus on racial issues, as well as his mixed track record on voting for immigration reform, make me reluctant to “Feel the Bern”.
I seem to be out of options.
I’m not trying to tell you all not to vote. Although my analysis of the candidates appears fairly pessimistic, I will most likely weigh between my options in the end and vote for either Sanders or Clinton. I would never encourage people not to vote or express their political opinions when so many people — particularly people of color — are disenfranchised by mass incarceration and by the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision to invalidate parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
However, as Yale students, we should keep our priorities in mind when it comes to political engagement. This summer, many of us will tirelessly run around with shiny pamphlets clutched between sweaty fingers, canvassing for our candidate of choice. Many other Yalies will don suits and ties as they make their way to prestigious internships in Washington DC. At some point in the future, a select few of us may hold elected office like many of our esteemed alumni. While these actions may validate our identities as the coffee-drinking, button-down-shirt-wearing, educated liberals that many of us aspire to be, our efforts may not be doing much to create real change in our political system.
The influence of factors such as campaign finance, low voter turnout, voter registration restrictions and lobbying in politics make it difficult to determine how much control the average citizen truly has over national politics. Don’t fool yourself: Campaigning is not activism. Instead of playing into the electoral game, I think that our time this summer would be better spent advocating for issues that we care about and participating in community organizing.
Prior to the passage of the 19th Amendment, women’s rights movements helped galvanize necessary support to enact the right to vote into law. When President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it was not a random act of kindness. No, it was a reaction to a shifting political climate that was catalyzed by the actions of activists like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.
Even in this election season, Sanders did not seem to take as firm of a stance on racial issues until Black Lives Matter activists staged an interruption at one of his rallies. Community organizing is more than marching in the streets. It’s doing things for our communities such as engaging in education programs, providing needed materials like food and clothing and supporting local unions. Such actions help our communities more than handing out pamphlets can.
Focusing on the issues — not on the race — is what will make America Great Again, even if it perhaps never was.
Isis Davis-Marks is a freshman in Jonathan Edwards College. Her column runs on alternate Wednesdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .