No matter how you feel about the current political climate – and the opinions vary widely just on our own Facebook page, for sure – it is undeniable that it is an interesting time in American politics.
While one half of the American political world anxiously awaits any new revelations from an investigation waged by Special Counsel for the Department of Justice Robert Mueller into alleged obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump, as well as his and his administration’s possible role into a widespread election tampering campaign waged by Russia, the other half of the political world has largely claimed the whole ordeal to be fake news, and has praised recent economical happenings as signs the president is doing a good job.
There’s a large swath of gray area in between those two points of view, of course, but the political environment of today – combined with an unprecedented amount of information available from millions of different sources, some legitimate, many more not – has made the need for media literacy when processing political discourse more necessary today than perhaps ever before.
This is why this publication would like to congratulate and compliment the founders of the Pilgrim High School Political Involvement Club (Pil-PI, for short) for their foresight in starting a club that will have real value for hopefully generations of students to come.
The club isn’t a debate club, rather it is a meeting space for teens to get together and digest the biggest topics of the day, discuss them, offer various points of view and try to come to a better big picture understanding of those issues. It is the kind of discussion that needs to happen more, and the kind of conversations that, unfortunately, seems impossible to have with certain grown individuals who are firmly entrenched in their beliefs – especially when it comes to politics.
The club has already been visited by Superintendent Thornton, City Councilman Jeremy Rix, Mayor Scott Avedisian and, most recently on Tuesday, Lt. Governor Daniel McKee. Rather than simply showing up and paying lip service to be able to say they made an appearance with the youth, each guest has immersed themselves in the experience and spoken candidly and at length about a variety of topics.
While the club is still small at this early point in time – it only had its first meeting in December – it has the potential to grow to a much larger gathering if more teachers, administrators, politicians and, most importantly, the students themselves, buy into its potential value.
That value is priceless. If more young people begin to become actively involved in critically thinking about politics, it will only have a positive impact as they grow and begin to file into voting booths – and some will already be old enough to vote when they join the club. After all, regardless of the point of view you come to form as your own, the only thing that truly matters in the end is if you truly formed it on your own – using data, facts and compelling arguments as the basis of that opinion.
Far too much of political discourse today is based on knee-jerk, partisan reactions. People vote along party lines even if the platforms posed by elected officials will actually proceed to harm that individual, most often because that politician said what that individual wants to hear with regard to one or two hot-button issues.
No longer can we afford to vote based off one or two issues. We must be able to digest the deluge of information that comes our way and make informed decisions about who we elect to represent us. An uninformed vote is as bad, and perhaps even worse, than no vote at all, because it leaves you susceptible to voting in a candidate who may clash with 75 percent of your beliefs, but said the right thing about that much smaller, less wholly significant 25 percent.
More clubs like Pil-PI need to form across the state, and across the country. There is no wrong way to do it. You simply need forward-thinking individuals like Zachary Lafontaine (the club’s student founder) and veteran English teacher Paula Merdink (who is advising the club in a currently unpaid role) to lead the charge.
Nothing will change overnight. But nothing will change at all if we don’t start somewhere. And there is no better time to start talking about how you will vote and why you will vote a certain way than before you ever step foot in a voting booth.