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This election season, change the conversation

Our national political coverage is painstakingly cluttered with media buzzwords and banter rather than a focus on policy. The majority of news coverage highlights moments like “What Marco said about Trump” or “Hillary’s latest burn on Bernie.”

While these quips are entertaining and make for easy reads, they often leave out the “issues” part of politics. If you don’t go out of your way to read in-depth coverage, more than likely you and the rest of the American public are stuck reading very slim coverage of our political candidates views on the actual issues. All of this contributes to a lack of knowledge surrounding important policy issues, and arguably this contributes to a lack of in-depth conversation about these issues among the American people.

I believe that this lack of conversation contributes to an exclusion of our most marginalized populations.

The conversation at the national level seems mainly occupied by portions of the issues that relate to immigration, healthcare, the economy, and national security. These are all very important issues, but the narrowing of the discussion to only hot button portions of these admittedly big issues, result in the implicit exclusion of other equally as important policies that help thread together the makeup of our policy spectrum.

For instance, according to the latest Gallup poll, 39 percent of Americans view the economy as the most important problem our nation faces. While, the economy is an important issue you don’t hear too many politicians talking about the factors that led to wealth inequality as a driver of economic peril, you rarely hear about how the environment is a factor in providing economic stability, and far too infrequently do you hear them talk about how an equitable public education is the foundation for our future’s job market, economic viability, and our nation’s innovation. Instead, issues of wealth inequality, the environment, and k-12 education end up being overly simplified in the debate.

Furthermore, our conversations fail to address fundamental issues of inequality: systemic racisms and sexism that perversely construct our institutions are not being addressed on a level that adequately commits our nation to solving them. The conversations we are currently having are not only limited to concentric topics, there is an astounding lack of social justice perspectives being taken into consideration.

As pessimistic as that all sounds, there is something this year’s election has shown me: the power of unified voices does make a difference. If we want to see action taken to ensure equitable and quality public education for all students, sustainable practices to conserve our environment, proactive measures taken to advocate for racial equity and justice, then we need to utilize every individual voice that we have to make it happen. And it all begins with a single conversation. The way to influence our national agenda, our media coverage, and our national conversations is by having individuals to go out and share their stories and experiences. We need to empower other voices and create a space with the hope that we create a loud enough cry our politicians cannot ignore.

This sentiment is replicated on the state and local level. Systemic issues reach down to every level of governance. And if we want to see these issues addressed we need to be having real conversations about them. For every person you talk to about your experience there is one more individual willing to stand with you. And with each individual voter you convince is a local candidate that listens to you. Suddenly there’s one more person in power willing to stand for your issues.

Imagine then if for every local official we had fighting for our issues how much effect we can also have on our state leaders. Eventually that’ll trickle over into the national sphere. If this practice is repeated enough and happens in enough states the outcome is fairly simple: our national politicians will be forced to address issues we care about.

I’ve come to learn that despite the lack of conversations occurring nationally, there is a power each of us has to start them. When I first became involved with education reform, I was limited by the experiences only I had encountered. I grasped only the surface of varying issues like achievement gaps and teacher pay; I did not yet realize the deeper implications of wealth and racial inequalities that persist in our education system. It wasn’t until college when I met students who had come from very different backgrounds than me and shared their stories with me did I really learn how important it was to fight for educational justice. Their stories and their voices gave me perspectives that I had never even thought of before. And because of that I became more passionate, reflective, and committed to serving every child an equitable and quality education. And from that one conversation I had in a Starbucks the second week of freshman year, I have since worked tirelessly with my fellow students and community members to speak out and raise attention to our fight.

It’s important to remember that no single issue is more important than another, and it’s not about replacing one set with another, but rather that we make sure the people that are representing us are actively discussing all the issues most pertinent to our lives and our communities. We cannot do this if we do not hold perspectives of equity, justice, and equality at a higher standard.

And it all begins with us.

Eugenia Huang

Eugenia Huang is a student at Wake Forest University and a member of Students for Education Reform.