Beyond the Screen: Political Participation in the Internet Age

Erin Delany, Editor in Chief

A video from the television program John Oliver Tonight is currently circulating the internet. The video, which makes fun of polarizing presidential candidate Donald J. Trump, has been shared thousands of times, spawning numerous hashtags and spinoffs. Supporters of Mr. Trump reacted with outrage regarding the way that comedian John Oliver poked fun at the candidate, while those who dislike Trump –a group equal in number– were positively gleeful.

In terms of campaigning, the internet has changed the game. Videos like this have the power to take down a campaign or strengthen it. But in this digital age, it is easy to lose sight of where our power as citizens really lies.

I am lucky enough to have turned eighteen in August, meaning that I will be able to vote in the 2016 election. While this opportunity excites me, it also scares me. When I cast my ballot, I will help pick the man or woman who will lead our country during my time in college, a time in my life when I will be transitioning from childhood to adulthood; a time when things like taxes and wages and foreign policy start to matter in earnest. Through suffrage, I can have a say in the way my country will be run and what my life will look like for the next four years.

There are a few questions running through my mind as the Illinois primaries loom. They extend beyond “Who will I vote for?” I wonder if I will pick the right person on March 15th, but I also wonder if everyone else will pick the right person. When you pare it down to its simplest form, all of the presidential candidates want the same thing for our country: they seem to  want to keep us prosperous and strong, and our inhabitants happy, healthy, and free. However, each candidate has a drastically different vision of how to achieve their goal, and some of these visions are more appealing than others.

As I mentioned previously, the media has changed the landscape of the campaign trail. Candidates take their battles to Twitter, supporters retweet and share videos, and debates are almost comedically made-for-TV, destined to go viral. As a young person, it is easy to throw up my hands and resort to backing a candidate over the internet. But there are other, perhaps more effective, ways to help.

The more in touch with your government and your own stances on issues you are, the better. The most surefire way to protect your rights and to make your voice heard is to stick your hands in the political process and get messy. If you are passionate about an issue, call your representative, schedule a meeting with a state senator, petition for a bill in Congress, caucus in Springfield, or go and work in a campaign office. If you are old enough to vote, then vote! Sharing videos and liking statuses is a way to show support, sure, but it isn’t the most effective way.

In short, in these next few months, the course of all of our futures and the future of our nation is on the line. The only way to ensure that this future is what you want it to be is to participate. You can help create a nation and a future you can believe in, but that means getting off your screen and getting out into the world.

As a citizen, I encourage you to go out and do something, regardless of what candidate you support. Because like it or not, we play a critical role in the political process. So please. Go campaign. Go vote. Go caucus. Our generation will build tomorrow’s world.