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Students ‘flexing their political muscle’

Hundreds of students and community members filled MLK Plaza on Monday in protest of President Donald Trump’s immigration ban. ORACLE PHOTO/JACKIE BENITEZ

Hundreds of students gathered at USF on Monday to protest President Donald Trump’s immigration ban. 20,000 people attended the women’s march in St. Petersburg. Thousands attended political rallies during the election. 

An increase in student activism has caused many to question the realistic impact of citizens influencing the actions of the government.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa said it is important for students to “flex their political muscle” and reach out to their local representatives and make sure their voices are heard. 

“Just a little while ago I had about 10 new college students in my office who were up here for a couple of days and of course for the historic women’s march on (Jan. 21) there were all sorts of young people,” Castor said. “I’ve really never seen that before … it’s great to see the activism of students and young people mirroring what is happening all across the country.”

This could mean calling local representatives, emailing Congressmen and women or mailing letters to lawmakers. For Castor, the current political climate requires an increased form of activism. 

Congress plans on debating student loans, Pell grants and work-studies, according to Castor. While some issues, like infrastructure, will more than likely garner bipartisan support, many are divisive in nature. 

“Everyone has got to ratchet up their level of involvement,” Castor said. “Sometimes people will make a phone call to their congressional office or the White House. They’ve got to do more than that now.

“They’ve got to use all the tools that social media provides, interact with members of Congress and the White House on Twitter, on Facebook pages, emailing and making phone calls and showing up at various events back home in the district with their elected officials.”

A.J. Hlavac, a senior majoring in advertising, said students’ opinions are able to impact national change if voiced in unison with others wanting the same change. 

“We are going through this renaissance of student activism,” Hlavac said. “I know in the ‘60s and ‘70s it was way more prominent with people going through things like the Vietnam War, if you’re looking at this from a historic point of view, but it kind of fizzled out in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

“I’m definitely seeing this new rise of activism now though, and my opinion on it is it’s absolutely wonderful. I feel like it will change things and we should keep the momentum going.”

Castor echoed this sentiment and said she had seen the impact of unified opposition from the public on the first day the new Congress was sworn in. After it was reported Congress had adopted a new rule to eliminate the Office of Congressional Ethics, the public responded by calling, emailing and taking to social media to object to the change. 

And politicians are listening. 

Within 24 hours, Congress had to rescind the decision to remove the office. 

“The millennial generation is now the largest generation and the more cohesive and the more active the generation becomes on key issues, the more the political system has to adjust,” said Susan MacManus, a political analyst at USF. “You always have to think about who hires and fires an elected official and that gives you a good idea as to who they listen to. 

“So whether you’re a Congress member, or a state legislature, or a city council member, or a county commissioner, you’re gonna listen to the people who contact you and weigh in on issues.”

The key to true political change, however, comes in being proactive, rather than waiting to respond to an issue, according to MacManus. 

Following Congressmen and women on social media, signing up for email updates and checking in on politicians websites are easy ways to monitor what politicians are doing in Washington D.C., according to Castor. 

There are multiple student groups outside of the typical political party organizations that focus on activism. Nearly every major issue, whether it be the environment, human rights or foreign affairs, has an organization on campus. Many of these, though issue focused, encourage students to be aware and speak out when their desires are being ignored. 

Hlavac has been a part of USF’s United Students Against Sweatshops since 2015 and said college is the time many realize they have a say in creating change politically.

“Anything that puts pressure on lawmakers and lets them know there’s people who care about this cause, enough people that care about a certain cause, is effective,” said Hlavac. “Every voice matters, especially now when there’s so many people mobilizing and having their voices be heard. It’s important to not just yell and scream on a milk crate, but to take action and do something about it.”

Hlavic said it was crucial to remember students’ voices matter and that volunteering their time, showing up physically to movements and writing to senators and representatives is an effective way to let the government know what the people want.

“If the people speak out loudly enough, they can stop legislations that hurt our interests from becoming law,” Castor said.