Widgets Magazine

OPINIONS

Activism in the abstract

I can explain to you, in excruciating detail, the problems I’m having choosing my winter quarter classes. If given the slightest prompt, I could rant for an uninterrupted hour about how much I hate people who walk slowly in bike roundabouts during rush hour.

I probably couldn’t, however, explain to you the content or significance of the charges filed in the Mueller investigation. (If we’re being completely honest, I forgot Robert Mueller’s name. I had to look it up.)

This tendency I have to focus on the slight inconveniences that are right in front of me and to fail to critically engage with broader issues is wildly problematic. I pride myself on being politically informed, but when the Mueller investigation news broke, I was too busy complaining about my economics problem set to sit down and try to actually understand the facts of the case. I claim I care about social justice, both on campus and off, but I didn’t hear about the petitions that some members of dining hall staff delivered to Residential & Dining Enterprises management until a couple of days after it happened.

A part of me offers up excuses — I had a paper due last week. I had so much reading to do yesterday, there was no time for me to think about anything else. But the amount of work I have to do isn’t a good enough excuse for approaching politics and social issues in this fundamentally lazy way.

There’s a tendency, both in me and, I think, on other parts of campus, to do all of the obligatory things that show you’re a good and active member of American political systems. I’m righteously indignant about all of the right things — I send screenshots of news headlines about Russia and Trump to my friends and follow the photos up with angry tirades. I can explain to you what a microaggression is and why they are bad things, and my explanation will be chock-full of all the self-important jargon you could wish for. But does any of that jargon I use really matter if I stay silent when someone in my dorm tells a casually racist joke?

It can be tempting to label this tendency for lazy political activism as another consequence of the infamous Stanford Bubble — this allows us to tuck it away into neat vernacular, make ironic jokes about it and let life slip smoothly on. But I think that’s somewhat of an oversimplification, and by putting most of the impetus on Stanford, we allow ourselves to shirk responsibility. At its core, our tendency to not engage with critical issues has less to do with us retreating into the safe haven of a Stanford “bubble” and more to do with us retreating into our self-made bubbles. There are countless ways to be involved in politics and social issues on campus — getting involved with Cardinal Service, participating in on-campus protests, starting conversations about systems of injustice that concern you.

Regardless of whether you go to Stanford or not, it is easy to get caught up in a life of constant leapfrogging. We hop, ceaselessly, from one problem set to another, one class to the next, living from quarter to quarter, year to year. We have no time to read the news because we have to finish an essay by midnight. We can’t volunteer this weekend because we have to apply for that big internship. We can’t engage with anything for longer than 10 weeks because we only have the bandwidth for what’s right in front of us.

So we read all the right books, we use all the right jargon, and we hold all the right opinions, but when it comes down to it, we consistently fail to do the right things.

We tweet about proposed bills that we are angry about, but we don’t take the time to call our congressmen. We are superficially angry about whatever social problem is at the forefront of American consciousness on a particular day or week, but we don’t devote ourselves to fighting for substantial change through activism, or even just starting important conversations about issues that aren’t related to the crazy-hard CS class that we’re taking this quarter.

This mindset does a disservice to the larger goals of activism and liberal democracy, which are to craft a better society.

There’s no use in being informed if you don’t act on that information. Our impact on the politics of our time is not predicated on how many angry tweets we send in a week, or how many news headlines we skim on our way to class. It is predicated on our active, and productive, engagement.

 

Contact Adesuwa Agbonile at adesuwaa ‘at’ stanford.edu.