Up until this year, I admittedly did not care much about politics. I was not old enough to vote during the last presidential election, and at the time I did not feel that I knew enough about the issues to make an informed decision even if I could vote. I have never been particularly outspoken about my beliefs, and I was not even willing to engage in conversations on the issues out of fear that I would reveal my ignorance or have my opinions shot down by better arguments. In short, I was everything that the founding fathers sought to protect against when, for better or for worse, they established the Electoral College: I was an uninformed and uninterested citizen.
Clearly, my views on politics have changed somewhat since then. I am now registered to vote; I am making an effort to watch the news, read the paper, listen to the debates and have a working knowledge of the issues that will be featured prominently in this upcoming election. I will still wholeheartedly admit that I do not know everything there is to know about each issue, and I am sure that some of the opinions I have formed are shaped in large part by the media and could be changed with more exposure to the realities of the issues. However, unlike before, I am much more willing to swallow my pride and ask questions about these issues. Many of my professors and peers are much more knowledgeable about these issues than I will ever hope to be, and rather than being afraid of showing my ignorance, I have started to use them as invaluable resources in developing my political beliefs.
I still have a great deal of sympathy for those who feel that engaging in politics is a zero-sum game. It is impossible to fully grasp these issues being debated, they say; in fact, even the politicians themselves do not understand every aspect. Many feel that their votes do not count for anything, either because of the electoral college system or because of the sheer number of voters that turn out for each election. In fact, many want to engage themselves in politics in one way or another, but simply feel as I used to that their decisions will not be fully informed and that whatever decision they make will count for next to nothing in the long run.
What finally changed my mind about my involvement in politics was little more than increasing my exposure to information about the candidates, the issues and the election process. As sentient human beings, we all have opinions; and in today's world of polarizing politics, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to not take sides on an issue, even if we never express that opinion publicly. Furthermore, as citizens of the United States, we are members of a participatory democracy. In that sense, we have an obligation to do just that: participate. We are fortunate enough to live in a country that allows freedom of opinion and gives us the opportunity to elect our leaders, whether you wholeheartedly support one or are simply choosing "the lesser of two evils."
There will be several opportunities to register to vote on campus before the election, and I hope that those who are not registered will do so. I am not using this space to ask you to vote Democrat or Republican; I am simply asking that we, as educated citizens of a democratic country, understand that we have the ability and the obligation to inform ourselves about the issues and to cast our votes in the upcoming election.
— Sarah Russell is a senior in history. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.