I love politics and activism and I'll be the first to admit I don't know everything. I was in tenth grade when I experienced my social justice "awakening" and I didn't truly discover my voice in the realm of politics until the summer before my senior year while attending Girls' State. And to be fair, not much more can be expected of me: I'm only eighteen, and I've only been politically sentient enough during the second term of only one president. My knowledge is limited. My years of existence are few. I am naive in every sense of the word when it comes to politics.
I think many young adults my age experience something similar. Politics can seem intimidating: a symbol of responsibility, of knowledge, of controversy and of adult problems. But this is what should spur us to learn: with the motive to reject ignorance and embrace truth. If you've felt insecure in your political knowledge or aren't confident enough to speak up during opportunities for discussion, check out these tips that have helped me find my voice.
1. Educate yourself.
Find a topic that interests you - whether it ties in with your identity, your career path or something else. It will take some digging, but don't limit yourself to Fox News or liberal blogs for research. This is the fun part: discovering your own political passions and fulfilling that thirst for knowledge. And don't be afraid to say, "I don't know, but let me do some research and get back with you on that." When approached about a politicized issue, it is always better to admit your unfamiliarity with the topic than to formulate an answer based on what your parents say, what your community claims or existing stereotypes and gross assumptions.
2. Connect with like-minded people that are smarter than you.
This was one of the first things I noticed about my peers at Washington & Lee in the context of the classroom and political discussion. Everyone that spoke was more knowledgeable, more eloquent, more analytical, more comprehensive than I knew how to be. This is good for intellectual growth. Allow your mind to be stimulated without viewing your own viewpoints as inferior.
3. Engage with those across the aisle.
One of my classmates attends meetings and discussion groups for College Democrats, College Republicans and the Alexander Hamilton Society, a nonpartisan discussion group we have on campus. While I don't have enough time in the day, I think this is incredible. Surround yourself with diversity of thought and perspective. Even if through listening to the other side you still don't change your mind, at least understanding the counterargument can help qualify your own beliefs. If all of our current politicians did this, our government would be a much more productive system.
4. Analyze your personal bias.
In dialogue related to socioeconomics and inequality, it's important to be self-aware about your own privileges. But in general, the key to civil discourse is including a discussion of why you think the way you do. How have your family, your community, your identity and your experiences shaped your political thought? What are the implications of that bias?
5. Admit it when you're wrong.
This is integral to inclusive and stimulating discussion. If you misname the Speaker of the House, laugh it off. If you once believed that President Obama was born in Kenya, disown that ludicrousy. If you assume something inaccurate about a minority group, apologize and change your thinking.
6. And by God, if you're eligible, register to vote.
If you make the choice not to vote, you can't expect for your opinions to be validated after the election. Vote because you're free to, vote for your democracy, vote for your ideals.
Don't leave it up to the old white guys in the smoke-filled room to overshadow your role in civil society. Be makers of change, blazers of trails. Your voice is valid.