1. Read More
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Do you have strong opinion when it comes to politics? Fantastic! Is that opinion to the left? The right? Somewhere in the middle? Do you know and understand the perspective of the opposing side? Do you try to? Because you should. It’s tempting to restrict your information in-take to those opinions that match your own (i.e. if you like the left and only follow left-leaning Twitter accounts, or if you lean to the right and only listen to right-wing pod casts)—but doing so can weaken your perspective. You are a part of a larger and diverse community, so while it is important to support your personal viewpoint, you have to be respectful of all other members of the community as well. Try to understand why someone might disagree with you and then look for common ground—or at the very least, learn how to better structure your argument to appeal to them. Stay well informed by reading a variety of newspapers (and yes, those still exist). Follow a bunch of political people on Twitter and try to understand the underlying values that they believe in. Stay true to your beliefs, but don’t fall for your own propaganda.
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One of the best ways to learn about political views is to discuss them. An even better way to learn about them is to debate them—from any side of the discussion. While talking with your friends, you can challenge one another to learn how well different viewpoints stand alongside one another, and you can understand where your own knowledge gaps are at the same time. The Debate Society might be a great option for those who really want to test out different perspectives. The group regularly hosts politically charged discussions that challenge members’ views. Debating allows you to learn more about what you believe in, and how to approach discussions with people with whom you may not agree. After all, learning to respectfully disagree can be a tough skill to pick up, but a truly rewarding one to have.
3. Aid a Campaign
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Almost all political parties and interest groups need volunteers to make things happen. Fundraising, helping out with an event, and fielding calls are just a few of the ways volunteers are able to help an organization share their message. Plus, volunteering means that you get to choose who you spend your time with – if you have a specific view point that you’d like to share then you can volunteer with a political party or a special interest group; if you would rather just encourage community involvement, then you can likely find a bi-partisan group looking to do the same (like the SU’s Get Out The Vote campaign which encourages students to vote or one of the groups that fall within the Student Umbrella for Social Justice ).
4. Join a Party
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Most parties have an affiliated youth organization for members under the age of 25. As a member, you’ll get to help choose nominees for ridings and can vote on party policies. Some of those policies might even make their way to Parliament or the Legislature. A few parties give their youth organizations special representation within the main party allowing for greater say in decision making than general members. Joining a youth chapter will also provide you with educational opportunities, as they usually organize special guest speakers to talk on a variety of community focused topics. They can also help you to connect with volunteer initiatives that might align with the issues that most matter to you.
5. Be Proactive
It’s one thing to sit down and talk about policy, but it can feel like an entirely different world when you decide to get up to get involved. For example, the Alberta chapter of Delta Upsilon saw that the Garneau Elementary School had very little gym equipment. Rather than sit around and talk about how disappointing that was, members DID something. They hosted events to raise money that they then used to purchase balls, hula hoops, and other equipment for the kids. Having an impact really can be as simple as buying a ball. What is stopping you from doing something similar?
6. Do What You Do Best
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At this stage in our lives, many of us can feel disenfranchised by traditional politics. However, what we need to recognize is that traditional politics are not the only way to be political. If parties, Parliament, and policy make you fall asleep, you can still be politically engaged. And although you may not know it, you might actually already be politically engaged if you happen to spend your time volunteering in the community. And at its core, that is truly what politics is about: making an impact on your community. Volunteering with an organization can be a meaningful form of political engagement, whether it be the Campus Food Bank, Engineers Without Borders, or the Boys & Girls Clubs of Edmonton. And if you feel strongly about an initiative, find people who also feel strongly about it. By uniting passionate people, you can spark something incredible.
Are you expected to run for political office? No, that’s not for everyone. Politics are now about making a statement through positive engagement. Politics is about being a member of a community: and that community is diverse and hosts multitudes of opinions and perspectives. It is our responsibility to learn how to respect different opinions and it’s our obligation to look for the commonalities that exist between all of those opinions (because we’re all a part of the same community and must have some key commonalities). After all, even the smallest change can have the largest impact and everyone should be involved in the process.
----About the Author
Chris is wrapping up his undergrad at the U of A having just completed his Bachelor of Music with a concentration in Trumpet Performance. When not practising, you can find him planning community service events for his fraternity, two-stepping all night long at Cook County, or discovering the best restaurants in Edmonton. He also loves long walks through the River Valley and enjoys looking at pictures of cute puppies by candlelight while watching romantic comedies—that’s only partially a joke.