DEARING & WEISS: Enacting Change Inside the Institution
Published: Thursday, October 10, 2013
Updated: Friday, October 11, 2013 00:10
In case you haven’t heard, the federal government is in the midst of a shutdown. While we all have our partisan leanings, looking at this from an apolitical perspective shows something extraordinary: A tiny, activist faction that serves as the representative of a grassroots political organizing movement has brought the government to a screeching halt over a moral imperative.
Compare the success of the Tea Party movement to that of the Occupy movement. At face value, they seem rather similar: rank-and-file members feeling ignored by political elites commenting on how far the status quo has strayed from their ideals from a point of ideological extremism in either party. There is, however, one simple but tremendous difference: Members of the Tea Party ran for public office and those of the Occupy movement did not.
Now, more than two years removed from the first day of Occupy Wall Street, Zuccotti Park remains vacant, with little indication of the conflict that transpired there. But for the Tea Party movement, prominence in Washington did not end with the “9-12 Protest.” While the sign-wavers and flag-carriers have all gone home, their elected representatives remain
There are 49 members of the Tea Party Caucus currently in the House of Representatives, and, as we’ve seen in the past week, even this small portion of Congress can make a tremendous impact. But while the Tea Party movement used their grassroots organizing to ensure future representation of their ideals in Congress, the Occupy movement dedicated effort solely to the inhabitation of several public parks throughout the country. With no political organizing and no attempt to work within existing institutions to effect change, the movement is now essentially watching from the sidelines because their conservative counterparts have brought the United States government to a screeching halt.
Some may argue that Tea Party success is because of wealthy donors, super PACs and highly conservative voting districts. Had Occupy sought these kinds of supporters, however, it would have found similar resources at its disposal. There are similarly liberal wealthy donors, super PACs and highly liberal districts. There were means available for an equally radical Occupy caucus, but the movement simply had no interest in engaging political institutions from within.
This leads us to our main point: If you actually want to make a change, you will be more likely to make that change by engaging the pertinent institutions than by waving signs in front of their office buildings. As a Georgetown student, you have been given a future of nearly unlimited opportunity. Whatever issues inspire you, there is a high probability that there is an internship or job available that would allow you to work with these topics. As tempting as it is to take to the streets, doing so could be a disservice to the cause, as you therefore forgo a chance to tackle institutional change from within the institution itself. One passing comment from an intern to a superior within the office could have a greater impact than the most eloquent of statements shouted across a police barricade.
Protests do have their place. For the forgotten or for the disenfranchised, the protest might be the only way to be heard by decision-makers; it may even be the case that these very institutions are systematically preventing such individuals from having a seat at the table. However, simply being a Georgetown student gives us a pulpit from which to be heard. Just being on this Hilltop gives you the training and intelligence to get involved in making decisions that can truly bring change to our world. It is on behalf of those individuals who have been disenfranchised and are not blessed with similar opportunity that you must take advantage of your opportunity to change the institution from within. Don’t protest policy. Change policy. And above all, remember this: Decisions are made by those who show up. You’d better be there.
Benjamin Weiss and Phillip Dearing are juniors in the College. A UNIVERSITY FOR OTHERS appears every other Friday.