Op-ed: The problem with armchair activism

As liberal America braces for an unapologetically right-wing Trump administration, the trope of the outraged liberal college student is almost cliché. Since the election, the majority of Tufts students has been lamenting the fact that our country chose a populist demagogue. Minutes after the election was decided, students made countless lengthy Facebook posts describing feeling sad, ashamed, scared or angry. Liberal pundits, meanwhile, have parodied Donald Trump and his cabinet, making fun of Trump’s orange skin and golden hair, mocking Secretary of Education nominee Betsy Devos for her apparent ignorance about the education system, and laughing at Secretary of Housing and Urban Development nominee Ben Carson’s qualifications for his new position, which are, well, laughable.

Both of these reactions are dangerous. Armchair activism is not activism. Making fun of Trump is easy, but it’s transgressive, as it turns him into a character rather than what he really is: the most powerful man in the world. As Trump’s campaign picked up steam, a popular assessment of his success was that Trump’s supporters take him seriously but not literally, and his detractors take him literally but not seriously. We did elect Trump as our 45th president. It’s time to take President Trump seriously and literally.

As a response to the election, I’d like to challenge the Tufts student body (and all college students) to put its proverbial money (read: time and energy) where its mouth is. Let’s make the time to engage with the pertinent issues in tangible ways. Throwing up our hands and saying that the system is flawed is not the proper response. Yes, the system is flawed, but we must work within it in order to change it. Just over half of eligible voters voted in the 2016 presidential election. A democracy does not work unless people choose to participate. We can’t put our heads in the sand.

Our engagements will not dethrone President Trump, but as former northern Boston, Mass. representative Tip O’Neill famously affirmed, “All politics is local.” Our efforts start on campus and in our area.

Personally, I am passionate about education. I think that Donald Trump and Betsy Devos pose a giant threat to public education in our country. I attempt to practice what I preach by volunteering as a Democracy Coach with Generation Citizen. Over the course of the semester, my students undertake a semester-long advocacy project where they learn about local government and how to become change agents in their own communities.

As an example, last semester, my seventh grade class decided to do a project on police brutality. We had a visitor from the City Council’s office come and speak about local efforts to improve police-community relations. A Boston Police sergeant came to speak to the class about his experiences. We had lengthy email correspondence with the Executive Director of Police Training in Massachusetts about anti-bias training and its efforts to eliminate police brutality. The students also advocated to expand the body camera program by contacting the Mayor of Boston’s office. The semester before, my eighth grade classroom decided to do a project on curbing youth violence in Dorchester, and its City Councillor, Tito Jackson (who just announced his candidacy for the Mayor of Boston), came into the classroom to hear our concerns. Because they’ve had these experiences, these students are more likely to vote and become active citizens.

Your contribution does not have to be education-focused. All mention of climate change was erased from the White House website when Trump was sworn into office. Rick Perry, Trump’s pick for Secretary of Energy, once called for the abolition of the department. Scott Pruitt, Trump’s nominee to lead the EPA, is a climate change denier and has been an anti-EPA activist. This is terrifying. You can combat this by becoming an eco-rep, joining the Tufts Sustainability Collective or the Tufts Energy Group, or even participating in Meatless Mondays from time to time.

The Women’s Marches that took place around the world this past weekend were awe-inspiring. Let’s harness that energy and passion. NARAL and VOX are year-round reproductive rights groups on campus, and their efforts are vital. Join their fights. If you want to empower female-identifying young people, join Strong Women Strong Girls. If you want to join conversations around sex and gender, go to a SAGE (Students Acting for Gender Equality) meeting at the Women’s Center. If you’re worried about human rights abuses, go join the Tufts chapters of ACLU or Amnesty International. If you’re worried about Trump’s siege on journalism and the media, join a campus publication. If you are worried about Trump’s attitude surrounding the military, join ALLIES.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of worthwhile efforts to make or groups to join; it’s merely a starting point. I know that I could be doing a lot more, and I invite you to join me. We elected a demagogue president. If you think that’s a problem, then let’s go to work.

Editor’s note: If you would like to send your response or make an op-ed contribution to the Opinion section, please email us at tuftsdailyoped@gmail.com. The Opinion section looks forward to hearing from you.

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