OPINION: What’s the cost of political apathy?

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Mars Nevada 
DIGITAL IMAGERY SPECIALIST 

Americans may feel inundated by the news amid ongoing polarity. Photo courtesy of Pexels.com

A week ago, on a calm weekend night, I found myself sitting around a table with friends at a bar. It was like any other night out with friends in college. Laughter, drinks and commiserating over the dread of classes coming soon. In a lull in the conversation, I took a deep gulp of my drink.

“Can you believe we may have just started another war?”

A little less than a day ago, every newspaper, tv station, radio station and social media platform was electrified with the news that the United States had killed the Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani as he was leaving the Baghdad International Airport. It didn’t seem real. Nothing much these days does. At some point, it feels like being swept along a river of continuous outrage, scandal and tragedy. Sometimes it feels easier to tune everything out, to focus on the daily struggle of grades and bills and the drama of the everyday.

In 2018, the Pew Research Center reported that almost 7-in-10 Americans experience news fatigue, that weary feeling caused by information overload and constant headlines. But in that moment, in that bar, I couldn’t help but think how hard it would be, if I were a young person in Iran, to even think about laughing with my friends while feeling safe and peaceful.

Shortly after the news about Soleimani came out, almost every young person I know made jokes about being drafted. I wonder how well we’d be able to joke if we really had to face the reality of war. Wars don’t touch most of us, not in our classrooms or as we are idling with loved ones. We have the privilege of insulation from the real-world effects of policies. That is, until we don’t. We can afford to not care about politicians debating health care until we can’t afford our prescriptions. We can afford not to care about reproductive rights until we’re desperate and the only clinic is hours away or in another state. We can afford not to care about immigration until a friend no longer shows up to the same parties or the classroom or work. I wonder when it became normal to feel numb to the pain of others.

We can do so much better. At UNO, we tend to have voting rates higher than the national average, according to the UNO 2012 & 2016 campus report from NSLVE, the National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement. But democracy isn’t just about voting—it’s about making civic engagement part of our everyday lives. Politics isn’t just for self-described activists, news and political junkies anymore. It’s for all of us, because the policies that politicians make affect all of us. It’s time to do the seemingly boring but critical work of becoming engaged. Going to town halls, protesting, paying attention to what our city council is doing, supporting local journalists who do the hard work of keeping politicians accountable, voting in primaries and general elections, learning about candidates and going to bat for them, calling and writing to our representatives. I never thought I’d become involved in politics, but I also never thought that we would elect a man with no foreign policy experience who would drag us into another war, much less erode the rights we’ve been taking for granted.

P.S. If this resonates with you at all, I’d like to invite you, dear reader, to the Congressional District 2 Candidates forum hosted by the UNO Democrats on Feb. 1, from 5 to 7 p.m. in the Milo Bail Student Center.

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