A Bruin Walk preacher stopped me on my way home from campus to talk about his beliefs. Although I do not support the fearmongering and vindictive claims he advocated, I was impressed by his willingness to put himself on the line in a place where his beliefs are counter to the norm and met with vitriol.
Many students should take that lesson to heart. The United States is splitting up into increasingly polarized echo chambers. At UCLA, we saw this stark polarity when famous alt-right writer and speaker Milo Yiannopoulos came to visit. The phrase “Trump 2016” chalked on campus was seen as hate speech at Emory University, while Republicans view Hillary Clinton as a traitor and criminal.
On top of that, a UCLA poll concluded that 8.5 percent – the highest ever – of incoming undergraduate students say they are willing to join a protest. This positively indicates increased student activity in politics, yet the voter turnout for people aged 18-24 continually falls short. Instead, student use of social media to obtain news on the election and express political beliefs is so widespread that in many cases, it’s just ineffective activism.
When used correctly, social media has the ability to unite millions over issues, be that through viral videos or promotion of unheard viewpoints. But the positive reinforcement from social media has a tendency to cause people to adhere to their beliefs more zealously than ever before.
Young people often resort to social media to vent their long-winded frustrations, but the two most important aspects of political activism are still missing in this medium: interaction with those of a different political orientation and actually voting. Students need to do much more than just this. Social media is good for spreading awareness, but poor in inciting real, active change.
Many studies conclude that people naturally tend to favor being around like-minded people. In social media, this is prevalent with friends and followers holding, sharing, liking and favoriting similar beliefs, leading to stronger biases. Facebook is considered the most widely used news resource, so with this partisan algorithm it warps people’s perception of reality. People used this concept of reality to post dozens of partisan memes oversimplifying large issues to everyone they know and in turn, make their own political ideas, whether true or false, further cemented into their own psyche.
The purpose of political campaigning can be simplified down to two reasons: enticing voters of your respective party to turn out on Election Day, and convincing the millions of independent and undecided voters that you are the better candidate they should vote for. The fact of the matter is that you are not likely to find a voter who is undecided, independent or even strongly against your point of view when you are being politically active only on social media.
And because of this, the most efficacious way of making a difference and tipping the scales of public opinion in favor of your issue or candidate is to create a network and leave the sociopolitical bubble of Facebook to reach out to the millions trying to decide. The physical act of registering voters, canvassing and contributing articles for local opinion pages is much more effective for your cause than just posting emotional statuses on Facebook.
The truth is, voting itself is the most effective way to express your opinion as an American. California was the seventh-worst state in terms of voter turnout in 2012, and the voters aged 18-24 in elections tend to underperform. In the 2014 California primaries, only 3.7 percent of voters from the ages of 18-24 went to vote. We even saw this in Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign, where despite holding an 82 percent favorability rating among Democrats of ages 18-24 and commanding an online community rivaling that of Barack Obama in 2008, he was still 400,000 votes short of Clinton. Yet, of the 24.8 million eligible voters, only 47.7 percent of registered voters and 34 percent of total eligible voters participated – Sanders’ 400,000-vote deficit was nothing compared to the millions who did not participate in the voting process.
USAC External Vice President Rafi Sands and several other UCs’ student governments are all tirelessly working to register as many UC students as possible. BruinsVote!’s current goal is 15,000 students. According to Sands, “registering students’ place of residence as UCLA is the biggest hurdle in terms of voter student turnout.”
And the truth is, registering and actually voting in this election cycle goes way beyond just the presidential election. Increased student voter turnout would force politicians to cater their message to us. The UCs have had their funding continually cut over the past decade, and Gov. Jerry Brown’s term ends in 2018, meaning there will be two candidates feverishly looking to grasp as many voters as possible. When this happens, it’s in students’ best interests to be active voters, so that massive issues like rising tuition costs, the student debt crisis and the tumultuous job market for recent graduates are put on the forefront of issues the candidates need to solve.
The right to protest is one of the most fundamental ones for all Americans: whether it is on the internet, at a rally, taking a knee during a football game, petitioning lawmakers, etc. The most important right in a democracy is to voice all of these beliefs that we protest and tweet about in the voting booth. But the fact of the matter is that without greater voting percentages, student issues will continually be brushed to the side. The last thing any of us want is to see is angry political posts on social media about elected officials whom you did not bother to voice your strong opinion about when it mattered most: on Election Day.