Students leave old parties, think independently
A January Gallup poll indicated that a record number of Americans — 42 percent — now identify as independents when it comes to voting and political affiliation.
College students are no exception. The last few years have seen the rise of movements, such as Occupy Wall Street, that explicitly refuse to align themselves with either of the two major parties.
More young people are looking for alternatives that might finally put an end to the back-and-forth game that is played out in much the same way every four years between the Democrats and the Republicans.
At the University, alternative groups such as Young Americans for Liberty and the International Socialist Organization are seeing a rise in activity. This trend is encouraging, and the reasons for it varied and complex.
Political clubs and associations at UH are witnessing the rise of independent political thought. These groups are providing college students with alternative visions for the future. It has become fashionable to stress independence from mainstream politics as a selling point for political organizations. The perception is that the specific concerns of college students — student debt, jobs, opportunities, and savings — are not being addressed under the status quo.
An increasing number of people are starting to believe that the two major parties are, at the end of the day, remarkably similar — both are out of touch and neither represents the interests of ordinary Americans.
“There is a growing disenfranchised class of people in the United States whose needs are not being met under the status quo,” said creative writing freshman Lena Melinger. “These people are looking for alternative solutions.”
This sentiment is shared by many college students.
“Alternative solutions should be seriously considered,” said biochemistry senior Jorge Gabitto. “Our generation is willing to consider them.”
Not all young people are optimistic about the viability of alternative politics, however.
“I can see why people want to vote independent, but our current political system favors two-party politics,” said biochemistry sophomore Chloe Ng. “It’s going to be very difficult to achieve a breakthrough.”
Other students see opportunities for serious change under the status quo.
“We can try to work with what we have now and change the parties from the inside,” said engineering freshman Tom Nguyen.
Dissatisfaction with the current system should not be surprising. Youth unemployment is on the rise, and where jobs are found, they are rarely satisfactory. In fact, most of the jobs being added to the economy are low-wage, part-time or both. Economic recovery remains elusive for the average American.
The student loan crisis is widening. Immigration reform has seen no breakthrough despite years of debate in Washington, D.C. In addition, military adventures overseas continue despite overwhelming opposition here at home. It is not unfair to suggest that President Barack Obama has disappointed the youth.
Many young Americans are now disillusioned with an administration that is hardly different from the administration before it. Serious problems demand serious solutions, and it is becoming clear to more young Americans that our current representatives offer none.
Viable alternatives have been few and far between. The biggest contemporary examples of spontaneous political mobilization — Occupy and the Tea Party movement — ultimately fizzled out and provided no infrastructure sufficient to challenge the status quo.
Hope should not be lost, however, as it is possible and probable that these and other movements will only grow in size and strength as our generation gets into its prime.
Political clubs and associations at the University — like right-wing libertarian activist group the YAL and socialist group the ISO — are witnessing firsthand the rise of independent political thought.
Two major factions seem to be competing for the hearts and minds of the youth — the more-right-than-mainstream, embodied by the Libertarian Party and various thinktanks and organizations, and the more-left-than-mainstream, which has seen a surge of support in recent years with the success of Occupy Wall Street and smaller anti-capitalist and socialist groups in local elections across the country — think socialist Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant.
Both camps have seen a surge in activity over the last few years. In fact, according to a 2011 Pew Research Center poll, more young people have a positive view of the word “socialism” than ever before — 49 percent of Americans ages 18 to 29 — while the word “capitalism” is seen in an increasingly negative light, with only 46 percent of young Americans reporting a positive view.
In general, the massive inequality, aggressive foreign policy and oppressive social policies which characterized 20th-century politics are anathema to the millennial generation, which is now coming into its prime.
It is important to note, however, that while many people agree that the back-and-forth game between the donkeys and the elephants needs to come to an end, they might not agree on anything else. The two emerging camps — right-libertarianism and 21st-century socialism — are incompatible and directly at odds. Polarization will probably increase in the coming years and decades.
More and more people are becoming convinced, to a greater or lesser extent, that radical change, not piecemeal reform, is needed to fix the most pressing problems of our society.
Opinion columnist Hayder Ali is a history and pre-med sophomore and may be reached at [email protected].