Our Viewpoint: ‘The government shutdown?!’ The importance of staying current

Category:  Opinions
Wednesday, February 7th, 2018 at 6:14 PM
Our Viewpoint: ‘The government shutdown?!’ The importance of staying current by Shayma Musa
Graphic: Shayma Musa

I’ll admit it. I was one of the people who didn’t know the government had shut down. 

I was up at 2:30 in the morning earlier this week — as one does when they’ve caffeinated themselves into neurotic listlessness — when I began to wonder if the government was still shut down. 

I’d only vaguely heard that the government was going to cease operating. Surely, it couldn’t have drawn out that long? And if still shut down, did that mean my FAFSA was not going to come in? I got my answer from Google, but the whole thing raised another question phrased best by a Spectator staff member: why is it that people in my generation, myself included, don’t really know a lot about what’s going on in the news?  

In a recent study published by the Pew Research Institute, 44 percent of individuals ages 18-29 said they received their news from a social media platform (Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, etc.). Furthermore, 33 percent of Americans said they received their news from one source, with only 10 percent saying they received their news from three or more sources. 

Those numbers are interesting, but honestly, not surprising. Personally, I often don’t have the time to read a long, well-researched article about changes to the taxes, or updates on healthcare; it’s not that I don’t care about these issues — they affect my everyday life — it’s just that I can’t justify spending my limited time on reading those articles.

And I hate to say it, but short, meme heavy articles (listicles?) on Buzzfeed are so much easier to read than, say, The New York Times. At the end of the day, the drama of who’s offended who on YouTube is easier to follow than the latest news on health care reform.

Another thought: two semesters ago, a classmate made a statement that still sticks with me: “I hate reading the news,” she said, “because I feel so sad after looking at it.” 

We live in a feel-good country, or at least a country where a significant majority of people just want to feel good about their everyday actions. We like reading about the underdog who beat all odds to become a successful business man, about the little boy who, thanks to a revolutionary life-saving surgery, was able to see his mother for the first time. Stories like that allow us to marvel in where we live in the world. 

Stories of genocide in Yemen, or drought in Somalia, or government coups in Venezuela — or even the harsh realities of systemic racism and profiling in our own country can make us feel useless in the grand scheme of things. 

I’ll be the first to say that the last thing I want to see after a grueling day at school is a distraught father cradling the body of his dead daughter.

But using temporary sadness as an excuse for ignorance is, well, ignorant. 

And then there’s this: there are students protesting speakers (usually right-wing conservatives), pushing them off campuses, calling for the impeachment of our president, and petitioning the hiring of professors on their campuses (while they might not even know why they are doing it). 

Not to say that these students don’t have legitimate concerns, it just seems like these days social justice is the latest fad. 

And this is dangerous, because when students decide that the issues they can make time for are not worth it anymore, the people who face those issues don’t go away. Bashing president Trump is all the rage lately, but memes, sarcastic imitation of his ridiculous manner of speaking, and exaggerated claims only do so much — and they most certainly do nothing to address the real fears of refugees, immigrants and minority groups. 

Liking that one guy’s funny joke about the president doesn’t help the mother who’s afraid of being deported and leaving behind her children. You know what helps spur real social change? The ballot. 

Change begins in cities, in mayoral and school board races. It begins in counties with council races, at the state level and with races for governor, senate and U.S. representatives. It begins at the grass roots level. Way before Washington becomes involved. 

According to the official 2017 Erie County general election results, only about 62,000 people cast a ballot — out of the 189,815 registered voters, while 280,566 people live in Erie county. 

We, as a generation, are not self-centered, and we certainly are not selfish, as 78 percent of millennials, according to a Reason-Rupe poll, report giving to charity. We mean well, we just need to be better informed about the issues that affect us. That means, we (myself included) should maybe venture onto the local news website or national newspaper a little more often. 

P.S.: Yes, the government did reopen. 

Shayma Musa can be reached at voices.spectator@gmail.com.

Tags: voices, viewpoint

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