When the 16th century philosopher Sir Francis Bacon said
“knowledge is power,” I reckon he imagined some nobleman, eyes wide with curiosity, actively seeking out
divine scripture and then get going and starting a revolution. What I do not think he envisioned was an insomniac 20-something half-heartedly digesting an Obama-Biden bromance meme, the first line of a Vice article on cultural appropriation and a Facebook status argument over Black Lives Matter, all at 3 a.m. on a Thursday. We absorb knowledge robotically. But we must start translating it into political activism.
We are the generation growing up in an era of open information. We are perpetually exposed to political discourse. When we mindlessly scroll through Facebook, we find a New York Times article (or maybe a Breitbart one) wedged between vine compilations and mobile uploads. Instead of actively seeking this knowledge, we are bombarded with it. The magnitude of political discourse available to us combined with the A.D.H.D-multitasking-with-ten-tabs-open way in which we digest news media has led us to become desensitized in our reactions. We are passive consumers of knowledge.
We are also at college. Here, we get exposure to more traditional political discourse: when it is not thefatjewish Instagram, it is Foucault and Marx. Yet, if I had a dollar for every time I have heard the phrase “political discourse” since I first stepped onto this campus in September, I would be able to subsidize a Trump-Pence defunded Planned Parenthood out of my own pocket. It surrounds us: more critical discourse on rape culture, more critical discourse on gender identity, more critical discourse on American flag symbolism. The life of an Occidental students is one big think piece. But even the most intuitive think piece in 2016 could not stop Trump.
We have spent a year spellbound by this election: the drama, the shock value, the animosity. But we must stop watching this political Theatre of the Absurd from the sidelines. Certainly we must keep ourselves informed through the news outlets we trust. But even The New York Times and the Washington Post were unable to prepare us for election night.
Trump winning this election has thrown me – and many of us young folk – into existential crisis. I am beginning to question whether, in times of urgent political catastrophe, there is any point to knowledge without action.
Over the last week, I have endlessly sworn to become more politically active. After all, Bernie Sanders is telling us to.
But calling for millennials to become more politically active and take control of their futures is a vague cliché. Political activism goes beyond sharing a New Yorker article that your dad emailed (of which, full disclosure, you only read half). It is so much more than that emotional drunk chitchat about the state of humanity you had last Thursday night at Block Party.
Political activism means going out and volunteering. It is hard, but it is absolutely necessary. The most effective work we can do right now is pre-emptive damage control for when we hit the looming Trump-Pence administration in January.
If we are going to take Trump at his word — which we really should because we have nothing else to go on — then the safety and well-being of so many Americans will be put in danger. Trump’s America has innumerable devastating impacts: families split up and separated by borders, women forced to bring unwanted children into the world, people dying because they have no access to affordable healthcare, innocent young men of color forced into prison and the one prospect that I have watched many a news pundit anxiously grapple with saying out loud: the official ban on allowing Muslims to enter the U.S. – an undeniable echo of Nazi Germany.
I believe that millennial’s are not deluded by the same white patriarchal conservative grandeur as older generations might be. People under thirty would have only handed Trump a measly 32 Electoral College Votes. But the fact remains: We are the ones who will ultimately inherit this divisive political system.
We are young, and so we are also the most idealistic we will ever be. Right now, we can hold the world to a higher standard, bolstered by our energy and enthusiasm. There is one condition: we must be willing to get our hands dirty. I recognize that this is a luxury of choice not available to some, yet as John Oliver said on Sunday night, “It will be very easy to go back to normal if this is not going to directly affect you.” Those of us who will be the least disenfranchised by a Trump presidency need to ask ourselves what we are willing to sacrifice; how prepared we are to compromise our day-to-day existence to fight for our morals.
Is leaving a party before midnight worth the early morning on Saturday in order to volunteer at The Trevor Project, an organization that is fighting to give hope to those LGBTQ+ people who have considered committed suicide since Nov. 8th? Would we bring our G.P.A. down two points so we can dedicate a day a week to help refugees fleeing war zones?
I am asking myself these exact questions as I write. But I think I know the answer. And so do you.
We must not see a Trump presidency as another anthropological intrigue from the safe confines of our respective liberal bubbles. Because it is our reality, and the only way we can claim it is by thrusting our way in, headfirst and fighting. Here’s a list of organizations to get involved with, courtesy of John Oliver. The rest is up to you.
Leah Gavron is an English Literature major, on exchange from the University of Sussex. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.