Politics can be considered a “dirty” word representing aggressive, uncivil debates, power struggles, red tape, and more. As a political science major, I’m no stranger to these negative associations, nor am I a stranger to today’s polarization of political conversations.
I am fortunate enough to be a student receiving a certificate with the Political and Civic Engagement program here at IU, which has taught me to do away with this embedded understanding of politics. PACE educates its students on the productivity, power, and positivity that comes from citizens participating in engaged civic discussions about politics, democracy, and community. I have learned that having these difficult, even contentious, political conversations are a necessary step of achieving a functional democracy — and that, as citizens, it is our duty to engage in civic discourse, to evaluate and critique political actions or institutions, and to take stands on vital issues that we, as a society, can craft effective policies and solutions to public problems.
While these lessons routinely come as a “day in the life” for PACE students, this necessary engagement is not limited to those enrolled in the program or with a political background. For this reason, the department hosts the PACE-C 400 Issue Forum, an annual one-day, one-credit hour class to provide any undergraduate student with a platform to engage in democratic deliberation, to build their understanding of complex issues, to become better informed citizens, and to learn from various perspectives. In the past, the forum has focused on topics ranging from climate change to national security to the role of police.
The 2016 Issue Forum is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 27 and will focus on abortion and reproductive rights.
Participants are invited to learn from distinguished speakers with backgrounds in medicine, ethics, constitutionalism and more, and then engage in civil small-group deliberations led by trained student moderators. Nearly 100 students will utilize this forum to better understand how civil discussion of difficult topics is a fundamental component of democratic and community politics. The Issue Forum connects students with differing opinions in a manner that encourages them to see issues from other perspectives, to challenge their assumptions, and to develop well thought-out, informed opinions on issues of great public importance.
Having spent the last semester in Washington, D.C., and witnessing highly divided Congressional debates on this very topic, I was initially hesitant about introducing abortion at the forum. It would be too heated, too negative, too divided. Students would not get the deliberation experience for which they had signed up.
However, upon further thought and discussion, I realized that this fear of mine was playing directly into this culture of politics that I am so greatly against. Instead of opting out of this topic for one that may be more agreeable, I recognized that abortion and reproductive rights were exactly the kind of subjects that begged for a productive platform in our nation. Yes, they are complex, emotional, and confusing, but this is all the more reason that students and citizens must be able to have an open conversation about such issues so that they can be best informed and have the best influence on political decisions that will affect each and every one of us.
Although this year’s event is quickly approaching and may be out of reach for many, I invite and encourage students to challenge the notion that politics should not be discussed. Instead, push yourself and your peers to critically engage in these matters of importance for the sake of productive policy-making, democratic success, and finally, community development.