Becoming the Opposition

If the past week is any guide, millions of Americans are unhappy with the Trump administration. Among them are college students, many of whom are in the opposition for the first time.

Our generation, born in the 90s, was too young to be politically conscious during the Bush years and grew up in the Obama era — an era when the government was generally assumed to be “on your side.” You believed that the people leading the country were at least acting in good faith. Even if you disagreed, you did not look for malice.

That has changed. Now there is a government that is actively against you and stands for everything you stand against. It is in such stark contrast to your view of the world that your disagreements with the previous government have become trivial.

Such is the country I grew up in. I become politically conscious around the time of Obama’s first inaugural while in Turkey, where then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had been leading the government since 2003. To me, opposition was natural. It was innate. No one I knew liked the government. It was autocratic, too religious, neoliberal, etc. It was against me, who I was and what I stood for. I came to think that being on the left meant being in constant opposition.

So, Erdoğan kept being prime minister, and then president, and kept getting his way. Until in 2013, for the first time ever, millions of people rushed to the city centers to stand up for a park and Turkey’s democracy, risking brutality, tear gas and murder. For weeks, people did not leave, but we were still in opposition.

The opposition in an autocracy does not have any real power except to get crowds moving. Their movement usually doesn’t translate into change. In America, right now at least, it’s different. The political culture and democratic institutions are strong enough to respond to people power, and the past week has done just that. The people demanded and the American Civil Liberties Union sued the government to earn a stay against the ban. That is because the judicial system hasn’t gone anywhere. The United States still has an independent and strong judiciary that truly checks the executive. Such systems don’t work to support the opposition in autocracies. Turkey’s judicial system is filled to the brim with cases of “insulting the president” and jailing journalists and lawfully-elected members of parliament.

The Women’s March, protests at airports against the immigration ban and the many more demonstrations to come have real effects. They change the votes of members of Congress, the actions of officials and, hopefully, the minds of presidents.

People power can have an effect because this system allows it to, and Americans have seized the opportunity to flex their muscles and exercise their power. They only realized it after the election, but realized it nonetheless. So, go to protests and resist, because your actions matter. Act with conviction for those whose actions go ignored and unnoticed, like the people of Turkey.


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