Knowledge is Power
There’s always been this saying, “it works well in theory, but not in practice,” one often used to dismiss youthful idealism, or more radical political perspectives. The phrase initially annoyed me for practical reasons, because it so easily dismisses the opinions of more controversial, transformative thinkers, or because it suggested that the failed form of “practice” always was a result of the theory, not simply of bad execution. Yet, it also irritated me because I realized how few people actually spent time understanding, or even being exposed to “theory” at all--that is, political theory, political history, philosophy, ethics, and sociology.
Academia plays an important role in transforming cultural dialogue, as well as institutions themselves. Often, words and concepts that are now beginning to become public knowledge--such as a gender and/or sexuality spectrum--began in an academic setting. For example, in YEAR, philosopher Judith Butler first noted that the concept of gender was performative, in that it was something “put on” by the individual, as a form of expression, or a message to one’s surroundings. While it is unlikely if Butler’s suggestion was entirely self-created, the idea was once only tossed around in academic circles, among privileged individuals, whereas today, the issue of gender identity and of the ambiguity of sex/gender may be controversial, but it is public.
That being said, I have frequently found myself frustrated at the lack of accessibility within academia, from the exclusivity and expense of educational institutions themselves, to the language used within essays, books, and articles with a political bent. Unfortunately, this would suggest that the language and ideas of academics is distanced from the population; in particular, those whose lives academics seek to describe, or even improve. Further, this exclusivity of academia, and of academic knowledge, can easily dissuade individuals from participating in the “practice” of political engagement, of voting, and so on, or, may encourage engagement only with candidates who directly address them--regardless of these candidates’ perspectives, intentions, or capability. Likewise, while academia often appears out of reach for the vast majority of our population, the phenomena it studies are first witnessed and discussed --gentrification, for example--by those affected. In this sense, the barriers of academia are a one-way street, once again entrenching disparities in both access to education, and resultant outcomes.
Of course, civic engagement, political engagement, and understanding of political concepts are not at all personal. Structural barriers to access in voting, often determined by racism, mass-incarceration, or party-politics, or class barriers to voting due to an absence of paid leave or of voting holidays, play a far larger role in excluding many from an ability to express their political voice. However, in spite of this, I fully believe that information is far more powerful than we often realize--especially when new tools, including social media, exist to spread information, ideas, and engagement strategies immediately, and at little to no cost.
As a white, cis-gendered, able-bodied woman of privilege, I must first acknowledge that privilege. I must also acknowledge the role privilege plays in my ability to engage within the political system, to participate in civil disobedience, and to exist within academia with limited fear for my safety. Likewise, I recognize that as a person with those privileges, there are many narratives and forms of discrimination I cannot begin to understand, nor can speak to experientially.
With this in mind, I aim to provide a platform which simply provides and “translates” the information I have been exposed to, a platform where accessing information about political theory, our government and its structure, civil and legal rights, and many other issues--reproductive health care, education, U.S. military intervention, etc.--are more approachable for everyone.
In contrast, the “practice” component of this project attempts to put theory in action. I hope to continually post updates (in digestible, accessible language) about current political issues, information about upcoming rallies, town hall meetings, volunteering opportunities, voting registration workshops, and free programs for a wide variety of issues that each affect political expression. Knowledge is power. TAP into it.