Oklahoma has been getting a lot of negative attention for its lack of civic engagement. Last week, Washington Post columnist Niraj Chokshi wrote that our state ranks at the bottom of a number of indicators including voter turnout and how often Oklahomans discuss politics. When these measures are combined, Chokshi states Oklahoma ranks higher than any other state in political disengagement.
This political disengagement is also reflected on our campus; there is a striking lack of political organizations. There is no College Democrats, College Republicans, debate team, or Oklahoma Collegiate Legislature (similar to student congress, but specific to Oklahoma). In fact, the only active political organization is Common Sense Action, a bipartisan millennial advocacy organization I founded at TU last fall.
Civic engagement is a core principle of democracy. A government by the people, for the people requires political discourse, community deliberation and an expression to our elected officials of what we expect from them. It only takes around 3 constituents calling a legislator to really get a legislator’s attention.
A robust civic culture also leads to more effective and efficient governing. The more voices that are expressed, the greater our diversity, deliberation and compromise.
Without groups to serve as platforms for political discussion and community discourse, TU students lack opportunities to develop a political identity. Such platforms allow for an exchange of ideas, often causing students to call into question long held beliefs, or causing them to think about certain issues in a new light.
Further, our representatives, whether in Washington, Oklahoma City, or Tulsa City Hall, respond to constituent needs. And there is definitely something to be said about strength in numbers. Student political groups can organize and fight for good governance, whether that’s for a change in tax policy or against a ban on A.P. U.S. history.
When too few people or groups are involved in the political process, small, committed groups can mobilize their members, often resulting in an overrepresentation of extremists or single issues in law making.
If we want the government to reflect the will of the people, the government has to know what our will is. I am calling upon TU students to revitalize some political groups and boost our civic engagement.