Running for elected office is never a waste of time.
Whether in the midst of stagnant policy change on Harvard’s campus or in a culture of gridlock on Capitol Hill, devoting your energy to political change is not a futile effort.
It’s action. And it’s admirable.
In the midst of one of the most pivotal elections of our lifetimes, there is no room to promote a culture of inaction and apathy towards our elected institutions on this campus, or anywhere. As members of the leadership of the John F. Kennedy Institute of Politics, we were alarmed to see these sentiments epitomized in a recent Crimson editorial titled, “Don’t Waste Your Time,” which implored female candidates not to run for Undergraduate Council, arguing that the institution was broken and therefore worthy of abandonment.
Whether these sentiments are targeted at our own elected student body and the candidates who aim to serve our campus community, or targeted at our American democracy and the candidates who aim to serve our nation, we have to rise above this cynicism.
While the criticisms that have been directed towards the Undergraduate Council are certainly worthy of debate, there should be a clear distinction between criticizing a democratic institution and undermining the democratic process.
We should encourage motivated candidates to run for office—especially when systems are weak. When democratic institutions are struggling to bring about the results we seek, we don’t leave them to deteriorate. We run. And we fix them. That’s how we bring about positive change. Apathy won’t bring about change, and abandonment simply can’t.
On a national level, we see repeatedly that neither Congress nor outside advocacy groups can solve problems in isolation. They work together, push each other, and bring unique capabilities to the work of democracy. Both the Undergraduate Council and independent student initiatives are vital to change at Harvard. We need dedicated students to work in both.
And yes, that includes women.
As former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill once said, “All politics is local.” To promote an ethos on Harvard’s campus that devalues public service and the efforts of a woman candidate to serve her community and achieve greater parity in leadership has deleterious implications.
At an institution that has a history of producing world leaders such as John F. Kennedy ’40, the namesake of our Institute and a president who inspired generations to dedicate themselves to public service, the dialogue we promote on this campus matters.
It matters if we want able and motivated candidates to run for the Undergraduate Council. It matters if we want to see change in our community, our dining halls, our homes, and our classrooms. It matters if we want this change to come from the only governing body that we all have a voice in.
And it matters if we want to promote a culture in which everyone—man and woman alike—is encouraged to engage in their democracy.
In a poll released earlier this year through Harvard Public Opinion Project at the Institute of Politics, we found that 79 percent of Americans aged 18-29 don’t consider themselves to be politically active. As members and future leaders of the Millennial Generation, that is a statistic we shouldn’t settle for. We can’t.
That’s why we need to encourage rhetoric on campus that acknowledges the power and potential of political action. If you aren’t happy with what the Undergraduate Council is doing or isn’t doing, do something about it. Doing nothing won’t get us anywhere, and leaving the job to independent initiatives on campus neglects the role that the Undergraduate Council plays as your institutionally sanctioned democratic voice.