The current slew of high school students are in a rare and profound situation. While sitting in a blue, plastic desk, history is being made in the dense air around them: many students are beginning to formulate their own political ideas and opinions in the midst of one of the greatest diving controversies of American history.
As a high school senior, I have a unique perspective on the current political situation we face as a nation. In a sense, I spend over six hours a day watching and evaluating reactions to quick and drastic political change, understanding the nuances in what students feel in the midst of it all. I watched second glances, tears, and beaming smiles on the morning of Nov. 9, 2016. I watched lifelong friendships tear in half as new ones took their place, like a disposable, rising phoenix that accompanied a Trump victory. However strange it may be, the division, unification, and evaluation that occurs so frivolously on campus on a daily basis is nowhere near the most peculiar and grim part of the commotion.
Through the 2016 Election trail, an established truth was validated for me nearly every day: social standards take precedence over authenticity to oneself. The teenage mind, in all its glory, is so easily subject to change from either direct or inadvertent pressure to fit into a certain societal mold. Opinions, it seemed, at my school, were formed based basic conceptions of current events that were blown out of proportion.
Around May of 2016, when political speech became normalized at my school, many individuals began to voice their opinions with proud and unapologetic devotion. Although many opinions I did not agree with, it was refreshing to see students formulating their own thoughts based on personal preference and research. However, in class, I began to notice a vast majority of students become politically active through insubstantial opinions. “Trump is bad” because the news says so. “Bernie Sanders is a communist” because someone’s parents told them that. “Hillary is a criminal” because an entire presidential campaign was built around that concept. However, when confronted as to why these thoughts existed, many students could not articulate their concepts. “He/she just is” became a first resort, without statistics or news sources to legitimize these accusations. Even Trump’s iconic tagline, “Make America Great Again” is an insubstantial war cry, leaving many wondering when the country was ever great to begin with.
The frightening trend carried over when in my economics class, we went over the 2016 California propositions. Over 90% of the class had never heard of these propositions before, and those who did know only knew what their parent’s party’s voter card told them to say. It was a frightening and harsh reality: in our current affairs, many students (who are future politicians, voters, and government employees) do not know just yet how to critically think about America’s political situation. Although there are a profound and passionate amount of people moving towards the enlightenment of political activism, many students choose to stay ignorant in fear of being rejected, alienated, or judged.
However, this is why we teens must think critically about politics and form opinions, regardless of other’s opinions: when we do not exercise their democratic right to make their voice heard, we are giving the other side an advantage. When we do not express our crucial voices, we sabotage our own future, for the decisions that our government makes will affect us for the rest of our lives. We all know it gets tired when adults refer to us as apathetic, lazy, and indifferent to our political future. However, with this education and normalization of teenage politics, we will no longer fuel the caustic criticism of youth.
Today, I urge you to get passionate about what you believe in. Now is one of the most important times in history to exercise your voice, your love, and your subjective experience in the beauty that is democracy. Don’t just call Trump “bad”: criticize his policies, evaluate his executive orders, and get active in your own political organizations that fund causes you believe in. Threatening to move to Canada may be easy, but any fight worth winning is hardly worth giving up.