Bring back the passion to politics

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If you’d been born in France in the late 1700’s, would you have stood up to be counted in the French Revolution? Back then, that was the norm. Nineteenth Century Russian and French novels endlessly depicted revolutions led by students. But, today, people seem to think students are mainly obsessed with stirring up apathy. What’s happened? Could it be that today’s students are already the establishment figures with the very views which, in the Old Days, students used to oppose? Some say so, but I think that’s tosh. What about the 1969 Riots at Columbia University in New York when the student body overthrew and occupied the buildings? Or the Anti-Apartheid movement which helped free Nelson Mandela from prison? Or Tiananmen Square in 1989, when hundreds of students rebelled and many were killed. Each time, their voices were heard. Each time, they made a difference. Dear reader, radicalism is a state of mind! It’s a choice! It takes strong beliefs and the guts and energy to do something about them. But many of the Big Issues aren’t there any more, or seem to have been fixed. The Vietnam War ended a quarter of a century ago. Nelson Mandela met the Queen – no doubt the high point of his life. And China is creeping towards democracy. So, what’s there to fight for? Alert! Alert! That’s the danger. Things go wrong when we’re not watching. What about the rise of racism? Or Government’s willingness to trade your freedom in the name of other outcomes like reducing crime, or just “for your own good?” Where does the reach of the State end, if no-one’s saying “stop right there!” Some say the dominant forces on campus are anarchists, pot-heads, or just kids having a laugh. Yet those involved in student government generally come from the opposite end of the spectrum. They’re often future lawyers, politicians, and bankers. But, guess what? They always HAVE been! It doesn’t stop you sticking up for a better world. A passion and vision are a world apart from the cold, calculating, focus-group, statistic riddled politicking. If we don’t get more of the first, you can bet your bottom dollar we’ll get more of the second. It’s also about reclaiming the meaning of “Common Sense” – a political term ever since Thomas Paine wrote his pamphlet and started the American Revolution. Today “common-sense” solutions proposed by the government are often the opposite. If we – you and I – had a conversation and looked at what affects your life; I expect we’d come up with some uncommon common sense solutions. Solutions so right they demand your attention. Have you the courage to stare back and say “Yes, I’ll see this through because it’s right.” Common sense solutions make sense way beyond politics: like prescribing hard drugs to people who are already registered addicts and treat their addiction instead of criminalising it. Like giving 16 year olds the vote, because they pay tax to a Government they can’t elect. Like not making it a bankruptcy issue to go to college. Like remembering that Government is there to SERVE the public, not RULE it. So, don’t look at the railways and see only the delay. Don’t think of healthcare and see only the waiting lists. Don’t be a teacher who looks at your students and sees only hassle, a meagre pay-check and performance indicators. Looking beyond the problem is the only way we’ll find visionary solutions. You’re a student. Use the space to be radical. Expand your mind. Demand to talk about society’s problems. If you’re happy with the status quo, that’s great! The status quo has rarely been better. But even then, it’s worth defending. And if we take it all for granted, we lose it to political managers who’ve forgotten how to lead, because they haven’t needed to, because we haven’t demanded leadership from them. “It is necessary only for the good man to do nothing for evil to triumph,” said Edmund Burke 200 years ago. It is true today. So get up and do something. DO SOMETHING. There are no impossible problems, if you and I demand the right to find the solutions.ARCHIVE: 1st Week MT2003 

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