Broad Stripes and Bright Stars

Our political reflections

Photographer: Aly Grudem

Photographer: Aly Grudem

Before we could multiply double digits, we knew the pledge of allegiance. Before we could be called “adults,” we could enlist in the military. Before we could rent cars, we could vote. Long before we knew many things, we knew about our country.

How couldn’t we? America—and the president—means power, and we are enthralled by it. In fact, I’ve always had a kind of fascination with the presidency. In elementary school, I wrote a letter to President Bush—not because he was Bush, but because he was president—and I was ecstatic when I received a kind letter back, in a thick, crisp envelope stamped with the seal. Over and over, I read a children’s book filled with facts about former presidents and memorized the order of former leaders. There was even a point when I convinced myself I wanted to be president (not to worry, I don’t anymore).

The political landscape seems to be changing with our generation, a change that I think is for the better. Maybe it’s not as generationally unique as I think, but then again, maybe it is. Politics seem more embedded in pop culture and technology than ever before. During his presidency, Barack Obama danced with Ellen DeGeneres, read mean tweets with Jimmy Kimmel, and slow-jammed the news with Jimmy Fallon. Hillary Clinton reminded us of email etiquette and Internet mishaps. And for better or worse, Donald Trump is all over Twitter.

Yet all change comes with some sense of uncertainty. Bear with us as we solidify our views in a changing world. Here’s a look into our young minds.

—Lauren Cutshall

“Politics are Important”
By Max Smith

Remember that time in fifth grade that Mr. Hansher taught us about the three branches of government? He popped that Schoolhouse Rock video into the VCR and I still have the “I’m Just a Bill” song stuck in my head today. It was one of our first introductions to the American political system.

We should follow politics, Mr. Hansher said, and when we’re old enough we should vote. Why? Because it’s important. Civic duty and all that. But if “importance” was all it took for me to be interested something, I’d be less of an apathetic slob and be better about diet and exercise.

Instead, over the years I’ve found my own intrinsic motivations to care about politics, and they have less to do with civic duty and more to do with enjoyment and feeling fulfilled.

First, American politics can be crazy entertaining. It’s Game of Thrones, with slightly less murder. On election night in 2012, watching the presidential candidates race to 270 electoral votes and hearing the cheers echo throughout my dorm any time a state was called for Obama was more tense and thrilling than any football game I’ve ever watched.

Politics have only improved my worldviews. As I’ve followed the gay marriage debate, I not only developed a strong opinion on the issue, but I grew deeper in my convictions that all people should be afforded the same respect and dignity that I would want shown to me. It may sound corny, but politics really did influence how I treat and think about others every day.

In the end, Mr. Hansher was right; politics are important. But they’re not just important to the country, they’re important to me. That’s why I’ll keep coming back to the ballot box.


Photographer: Aly Grudem

Photographer: Aly Grudem

I Guess I Voted
By Lianna Matt

Walking into the Weisman Art Museum to vote for the first time, I felt… awkward. There was no Leslie Knope from “Parks and Recreation” to cheer me on. Instead, there was someone telling me I had to re-register to vote because my previous registration hadn’t gone through.

Looking over my ballot, the one area I knew something about—the gubernatorial race—was still a question mark in my mind. No candidate is perfect, and even after watching debates, reading articles, and perusing websites, I found that rhetoric could hide anything and bureaucracy could halt the rest of whatever good intentions. With that, it’s hard to tell which opinions are actual priorities and aren’t.

I voted on the gubernatorial election, skipped many of the other races (mea purgando), and filled in whatever proposal questions were at the end. When faced with the long list of names for various representatives, I was tempted to pick a name just because I liked the aesthetic, sound, or, in a false spark of social activism, because they sounded more diverse. The ethics of voting weighed down on me: Do I vote because democracy needs voters as the cog of their machine, or do I not because I don’t know what the heck I’m doing?

I walked out of the Weisman feeling guilty. The “I Voted” sticker that looked so peppy on my dad’s jacket when I was a child now seemed dull and flat. Without filling out my ballot completely, I felt like I was failing. An incomplete test in school is an F. On my ballot, it wouldn’t be failing from an academic standpoint, but it would be from a citizenship standpoint. I had attempted to do what my social studies teachers had presented as the core of democracy and therefore the core of America. It left me passionless.


Photographer: Aly Grudem

Photographer: Aly Grudem

Youth and Political Education
By Sara Erickson

If we peel back the complex and multifaceted layers of politics, we find social studies at the core. What caused me to be an informed citizen and cast my vote? Where does my desire to follow politics stem from? I can boil it down to one thing: social studies. Yes, the subject we all had in elementary school, also known as “history,” “civics,” etc.

We are privileged to live in a country where education is valued to the point of creating informed citizens. Without social studies classes, where would students learn to become civically competent? Parents are an influence, but also a burden to the cause. We don’t want our youth to solely adopt the views of their parents.

There’s an important connection between youth, social studies, and political education. Perhaps this is my way of saying “thank you” to all those teachers who forced me to think about social structures and what it means to be politically active. Politics is my way to reflect on the frustrations of studying marginalized communities, the history of voting rights, and segregation laws and culture.

Yet I also realize those frustrations made me politically active and informed. Through social studies I was given a voice for change. I was molded and shaped into an informed citizen. It wasn’t easy, so shout-out to my social studies teachers, and all other social studies teachers who incorporate the hard-hitting content into their curriculum. Learning about these heavy topics can be challenging, and it’s hard to for young people to wrap their minds around things like mistreatment and culture, but it’s more than worth it.

Cheers to creating an educated future.


Photographer: Aly Grudem

Photographer: Aly Grudem

My hope for America’s political future
By Kevin Beckman

Imagine a Congress that actually does its frickin’ job. Whoa-hoah, pretty radical idea, huh?

Right now, Congress’ approval rating is 13 percent. The “Twilight” saga has a higher approval rating than Congress. That mouse you saw in your apartment once? Higher approval rating. At least his stance on cheese is consistent (he’s for it). If Congress was a band on the main stage of a music festival, I’d go over and listen to Nickelback at one of the side stages. 

You get it: Congress is a big ol’ clusterfuck. Do I have a solution? Hell no, I’m a liberal arts student. We love to point out problems in things without offering ways to fix them. But I do have hope for the future.

I hope to live in an America where substantive policy discussion doesn’t take a backseat to meaningless bickering. Where campaigning means more than attacking your opponent. Where reaching across the aisle doesn’t mean climbing over a brick wall. Where “no” isn’t met with “Well, screw you then.” 

My desperate plea to Congress is this: get it together. Please just get it all together and put it somewhere safe so it stays together. You live here too, you know. If you don’t have enough respect for everyday Americans to actually work towards a better future for them, then have some respect for yourselves. Because you’re Americans, too. The country you’re currently running into the ground is your country, too. 

I hope you can turn it around. I hope you can listen and respond to your constituents and actually run this country the way it’s supposed to be run.

Open your eyes and just do your job. It’s the only hope we’ve got.