The Art of Political Participation · 07 September 2004

Participate--If You Do it My Way

By Eldad Yaron--Brooklyn College SAF--09/07/04

Last Thursday I noticed an invitation in BC's Students for Academic Freedom mailbox. It said: "The Art of Political Participation. Let's educate and expand the awareness of voter empowerment." Great, I thought to myself, realizing that this event was happening at the same exact moment I was looking at the green invitation.

Very late, I rushed to the Jefferson Lounge in the Student Center. I was able to catch the last few minutes of the event. One guest speaker was just about to finish her speech, telling students how important it is to vote. And it's not important to her, she shamelessly declared (the speaker is an elected public figure!) it's important to us, the students. Really. And then, just as she was about to return to her seat, she loudly added: "And when I say vote, I DON'T MEAN vote for George W. Bush!!"

I must say, I was dumbfounded. I may have even started to laugh, I don't remember exactly. See, It wasn't that I was so surprised to encounter yet another occurrence of a fair sounding title for a seemingly respectable event being audaciously hijacked by the rampant political bias of the propagandists who take the stage. (Are you kidding? I specialize in researching this very specific issue!)

I was simply amazed at my timing, and how I managed to walk into an event at random, catching a mere two minutes of it - which nevertheless ended up as a stark reminder of exactly why I founded BC's Students for Academic Freedom in the first place.

And no, it wasn't in order to advance the interests of George Bush or of John Kerry, nor was it to defend any party from attacks and accusations. It was in order to advance the notion of fair education that could inform me, the student who's here to learn, of BOTH sides of the story, instead of drafting me without my consent into a propaganda war that I may not realize my role in until it's too late.

I started SAF exactly for this reason - to help promote a fair debate and a balanced education for all of us. In other words: Intellectual diversity.

To be fair, I should have attended The Art of Political Participation event on time, so I could form my opinion based on the whole, and not just on the one shocking part I ended up observing before the crowd started singing the hippie-era song "Turn, Turn, Turn." (I'm sorry, but that was my cue, and I just HAD to leave. Not only that I showed up late, I left early too!) In fact, I'm quite sure it was just a coincidence. Is it possible that the whole event could be so deceiving and one sided? There's just no way.

Coincidence or not, why should I be bothered by the speaker's comment in the first place? After all, it's an event about political participation, not about medieval poetry, right? And me? I may have my own opinions about President Bush and about Senator Kerry. But what's wrong with taking a stand and saying "voting is important! (but vote for this guy and not for that one)"?

Absolutely nothing, really. The problem begins, however, not with what we get to hear from a particular professor in class, or any given guest speaker in an event that's open for ALL students.

It is what we don't hear that bothers me - the other side of the story, that is. Some sort of balance that, rather than manipulate students into propaganda, brainwashing and indoctrination in endless ways through your syllabus, will actually expose them to politics.

To the full range of politics and political opinion in this country and the world. To a fair debate on the issues that Americans are so passionate about these days, and that the two parties sometimes differ on so spectacularly.

We live in a divided society. But when students are being used as a tool to advance the specific political agenda of a professor, then something is wrong. Maybe this is the difference between Political Participation, and the "Art" of it, who knows?


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Eldad Yaron is the president of Brooklyn College Students for Academic Freedom. To learn more about BC Students for Academic Freedom, you may visit their website at http://students.brooklyn.cuny.edu/saf