This past week, Pittsburg held elections for open seats on the city commission and the school board. There are many Pittsburg State students who didn’t vote, didn’t know the platforms of candidates running, didn’t know who was running, or didn’t even know that Pittsburg is run by a city commission. A common excuse for this ignorance is “I don’t get involved in politics.”
A common knee-jerk reaction to criticizing the concept of being “apolitical” is that there are some things that are not political. This is a common belief among people of all political ideologies. However, I would disagree that such a statement holds true. There is nothing in this world that is political.
I’d like you to imagine you have a partner and three children. You wake up early because you’re going to make breakfast for the whole family. You sneak down to the kitchen, and you have choices to make. What do you make? One of your kids is vegan and you’re respectful of that. The second kid has a nut allergy so anything with nut or nut-related products is out of the question. Your third kid is just a picky eater. Additionally, your partner has to go to work quickly to support your family and can only eat something on the go. Obviously, I’m not actually talking about breakfast with the family.
Your decisions, regardless of the situation, have consequences that you may not even be aware of. The type of literature you read might signal to others that you hold a belief or support someone who holds a particular belief even if you don’t personally hold that belief.
Each and every one of your choices can have a political connotation to it, because politics is not simply who you vote for. Politics is about the ideal world you would like to see and, by extension, the candidates that align with your particular set of beliefs. The way you parent your kids can teach them a version of the world that may or may not be entirely true and, in turn, can create a more ignorant world. Those children could then go on to support political candidates that operate on false statements and misinformation rather than credible research and reality.
We’ve examined the way your choices affect others, but why is “I don’t get into politics” a privileged statement? Simply put, there are some people for whom being apolitical is not an option. These include but are not limited to racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ people, and the homeless. In fact, in the Pittsburg city commission race, some of the candidates made sweeping political statements about both immigrants and the homeless. The Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech that “we must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes, we must interfere.”
The next time you say, “I don’t get involved in politics,” think about what you are really saying. You are saying you don’t care enough to fight for your friends and family whose rights have been debated in shadowy rooms by unaffected people.