By Maggie Connolly
Opinions Editor ‘21
Only three weeks left until my return to College Hill. Only three weeks left to listen to every episode of Pod Save America I’ve missed since I’ve been abroad. That means catching up on all of the news I’ve missed or brushed over since I’ve been here.
I normally view myself as fairly politically involved and aware. I pay attention to the news. I even seek it out and read it, which adults think is unheard of for students these days. Since I’ve been abroad, I’ve missed a few of the Democratic debates, AOC endorsing Bernie Sanders, and last but not least, the beginning of the impeachment hearings.
It’s weird to feel so out of touch with American politics, and it’s partially my fault. Imraan, the academic advisor for my abroad program, asked us an interesting question one day. Why do American students focus so much on American issues? Essentially, he was asking, where’s the global awareness and activism? Sure, we know about the big button issues: the ongoing protests in Hong Kong and the Israel-Palestine conflict, but the activism surrounding those issues is often limited and predominantly organized in a more niche, politically active group of young people.
This question has been at the forefront of my mind as I lose sight of American politics and try to become more invested in South African politics. My friend Kimberly jokingly said that abroad was her “break from Trump.”
I’m reading South African news because it’s interesting, but also because I have to. I’m working in a newsroom from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., where I consistently need to keep myself up to date on what’s going on here. But even the big-ticket political issues are untouchable to me. I don’t have the language to write about South African politics the way I do American politics. I haven’t grown up here. I don’t watch SABC every night with my parents like I do with MSNBC at home.
All global politics seem kind of untouchable. There’s a fine line between trying to understand and engage when it comes to global politics and overstepping. American activists can be wary of claiming a narrative that isn’t theirs or focusing on an issue that seemingly has nothing to do with them. And that’s all good and valid, until we start ignoring things that are happening around the world and influencing the direct trajectory of American political thought and process.
So, I’m setting a goal for myself, and I think you should too. When I come back from abroad, I’m going to keep reading and engaging with South African news outlets.
Now that’s not to say that I’m an expert, nor am I going to start writing about South African politics for The Spire. I am, however, going to recognize politics as more than just the U.S. and all its absurdly racist and patriarchal complexities. That means being an advocate and an ally for issues that maybe don’t always directly involve me, but issues that matter for the larger context of the world and social justice initiatives. We shouldn’t be so afraid to make a mistake or overstep in our activism that we fail to have any global understanding at all.