Political expression beyond voting is vital for change

While voting is undoubtedly important, real influence is achieved through civic engagement such as protesting, writing letters and attending public meetings. | File Photo/The Cougar

Voting is important, and I encourage you all to take part in the upcoming midterm election on Nov. 6, but it is ultimately just a fraction of the ways we, as citizens, can enact change in government and policy.

If there’s one thing government activity has taught us within the past two years, it is that the amount of power citizens are granted through voting is extremely limited.

Though we love to refer to the United States as a democracy, many offices  —including the presidency — and policies are not determined through direct election.

By putting too much emphasis on voting, we forget the power of press, protest and boycotts, all of which are powerful tools that we should use to their full potential.

In order to hold our representatives accountable and ensure that our country is serving its people, we cannot limit ourselves to just one form of political expression.

I’m not proposing that we burn the Constitution, stop voting and scream “viva la revolución” like we’re in a bad remake of Les Mis – at least not yet. Maybe I’m an optimist or a fool, but I believe that with enough political engagement there’s still hope to be found within our current system.

With the clear unrest among many marginalized groups and their allies, it is vital that we take the next step by channeling our energy through more direct activism.

One example of the advantage direct political engagement holds over merely voting is the recent confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Despite the sexual assault allegations made against him and the consequent hearing raising questions among Americans concerning Kavanaugh’s temperament, there was little citizens could do to affect the outcome.

Due to the U.S. system of Supreme Court justices being nominated by the president and then confirmed by the Senate, Americans had to wait with baited breath and pray that their senators would vote according to public opinion — when, in reality, they primarily voted along party lines.

One moment that brought many sexual assault survivors hope was Sen. Jeff Flake’s call for an official FBI investigation on Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations. If you were following the vote as it was unfolding, you’ll remember that earlier that same day Flake announced that he intended to vote to pass Kavanaugh through to the next round of voting.

What caused this quick change of heart? Civil disobedience. Many credit Flake’s new stance to a group of protesters, led by two women who directly told Flake the affect his vote would have on sexual assault survivors like themselves.

Similarly, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s vote against Kavanaugh was accredited to her large voter base of Native women, who face disproportionate rates of sexual violence, holding her accountable.

Thanks to citizens voicing their concerns right to their senators whether in person or over the phone, Americans were able to exert power over government officials where they would otherwise only have an indirect effect. One look at the history of groups currently or formerly oppressed by U.S. institutions will show that the grand majority of civil rights were originated and fought for not through Congress but in the streets.

In one of the obvious examples, President Woodrow Wilson didn’t grant (white) women the right to vote in 1919 because he thought it would be a nice idea. He did it because female activists and allies had been marching, advocating and protesting for nearly a century.

Modern labor laws, the end of Jim Crow, what little environmental reform we have achieved — we owe it all to the unionizing, organization, campaigning and protesting of hundreds of activist groups.

No group has ever successfully voted their way to freedom, and because we often vote for people rather than policies, voting offers no guarantee of outcome. I urge you all to vote in the upcoming midterm election, as voting does matter. If you don’t do it for yourself, do it for the millions of disenfranchised Americans who will be unable to vote.

However, voting is just part of the equation. If you have the time, energy and resources — which I bet a lot of us do, even if we’re not eager to admit it — it is your civic duty to stay informed beyond election day and politically engage with your community, just as it’s your civic duty to vote.

If you don’t know where to start, try looking at community service and social activism groups on campus. Find one that jives with your values, and talk to your peers as well as the people you aim to benefit. See how you can best serve the causes you’re passionate about.

It may feel daunting at first, just as voting seems like such a big deal when you’re a kid, but sometimes it really is as simple as making a phone call or hosting a bake sale. Go forth, vote and do.

Opinion columnist Adison Eyring is a media production and political science sophomore and can be reached at [email protected].

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