Written by Varun Hukeri.
Originally published as part of the Spring 2017 “Power” Issue.
There is no doubt that 2016 has been one of the most momentous years for American and global politics. From Brexit to the election of Donald Trump, this past year marks a radical shift in the power paradigm that has long dominated the political landscape since the end of World War II. However, it has become clear that the drama will continue into 2017 as both the left and right challenge globalization, the financial sector, establishment politics, and the Washington Consensus.
For students at the University of Texas at Austin, the new year brings new opportunities to organize, rally, and exercise the power of civic engagement. According to an October 2016 poll conducted by The Daily Texan, 64% of students surveyed supported Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, a monumental lead over the 10% of students who stated they planned to vote for Republican candidate Donald Trump.
With Trump’s upset victory in the presidential election and Republican successes in the Congressional elections, UT students now find themselves in a university and city dominated by left wing-politics but in a state and country dominated by right-wing politics.
The result of the 2016 Presidential election was met with unprecedented resistance. Protests, marches, and walkouts were witnessed not just all over the country but also the world. In particular, the Women’s Marches that took place in dozens of cities made up the largest protest in United States history and featured over 3 million protestors voicing support for a variety of sociopolitical issues that the new Trump administration might threaten, including reproductive healthcare rights and equal pay.
In a democratic society, opposition is not only natural but also a symbol of empowerment. For decades, that power has been a hallmark of colleges and universities, representatives of counter-cultural thought and activism. Thus, it was no surprise that when opposition movements broke out in Austin with the J20 walkout and the aforementioned Women’s March, students were an integral component of such protests.
These demonstrations signal new opportunities for UT student activism, particularly for those that feel like the new administration has disempowered them. It is important to note that power and empowerment are not partisan. Both students in agreement and disagreement with the new administration can take advantage of the campus and community resources in three key ways: education, involvement, and mobilization.
Empowerment is impossible without education, and the most effective way to demonstrate good citizenship is to remain informed about relevant issues and engage in discourse, particularly with those who have differing views.
The UT core curriculum allows students to take Government and History courses that offer academic perspectives on how the United States government functions as well as its broader historical implications. Outside of campus, students can seek civic empowerment through the numerous in-depth and credible news sources available online.
A valuable component of any institute of higher education is the opportunity for civic engagement, and a wide range of organizations at UT Austin promote both partisan and nonpartisan involvement within the campus and community. From nonpartisan groups like UT Votes and Texas Political Union to left-leaning organizations like University Democrats and their right-wing counterparts like College Republicans, participation in these organizations is an effective method of encouraging students of all affiliations to be more active in the political arena.
Students can also empower themselves through external involvement. Numerous off-campus interest groups, political organizations, and government entities constantly need a supply of volunteers, activists, and interns. From the feminist League of Women Voters to the environmentalist Sierra Club and politically-focused positions in the Texas Legislature, students not only gain valuable social and professional experience but also find their voices empowered.
Any passionate individual or activist knows that actions speak louder than words, and the most impactful mode of empowerment is mobilization. The demonstrations following Trump’s election show the effectiveness of mobilization However, not everyone in the world has the ability to mobilize. In the United States, the First Amendment gives individuals the privilege to assemble and protest peacefully, a testament to the capacity of each person to become an agent of change.
Furthermore, American citizens can also mobilize by contacting their elected representatives to advocate for the causes they are passionate about. After all, the purpose of these officials is to represent their constituents, and communication between the constituent and the representative helps to ensure that the new administration puts the interests of all people at the forefront in the aftermath of a very contentious election.
The nation’s transformation over the last couple weeks has demonstrated that 2017 will no doubt prove to be a truly landmark year. Being a UT student means that there are plenty of opportunities to rally for the causes they believe in using the resources available both at the University level and across the city. Power is best defined as the ability to influence people and events, and in the age of President Trump, education, involvement, and mobilization give students the means to empower themselves.