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Resnik '15: Starting the conversation - a manifesto

I firmly believe that Brown students are capable of anything.

Not just Brown alums - Brown students. In the past year alone, our classmates have created works of art and literature, aided in the discovery of the Higgs boson particle and displayed stunning athletic prowess to a watching world. Members of our University are part of a centuries-old legacy that its students live up to every single day. It is long past cliched to say at this point, but members of the Brown community are truly leaders - of today and of tomorrow.

But there is something missing on this campus.

Half a century ago, when student activism was in its heyday across the country, Brown students, as they always are, were at the forefront. Brunonians marched for improved workers' rights, for racial and gender equality and to end the war in Vietnam. Our riot-proof Graduate Center, built in 1968, is a concrete reminder of how seriously both students and the University treated those causes.

But today it is harder to be excited about our politics. We are as passionate and driven as ever, but too many causes we champion end up in unresolved stasis. Brown students showed up for Occupy Providence only to see the movement largely fizzle. They mobilized for Barack Obama only to see petty bickering return on both sides. Today, it is harder to feel like we are making progress.

And so our efforts to address real political issues, both on and off Brown's campus, have slowed. From freshman year on, "liberals" join the Brown Democrats and "conservatives" join the Brown Republicans and that is, more or less, the end of the story. That is not to imply that these illustrious and student-driven organizations are not active or effective - they do truly exceptional work for their state and national counterparts - but when is the last time those two bodies sat down together and tried to hash out their differences? When is the last time the Brown Democrats or Republicans sat their members down to try to reconcile their personal beliefs with their parties' inconsistencies?

We have a student body that will undoubtedly have a measurable effect on the course of the world. Our University produces men and women of influence and note at every convocation. The Brown Democrats was founded by U.S. Rep. David Cicilline '83 and John F. Kennedy, Jr. '83, and Brown's first Republican Club was founded by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal '91.5  - our graduates march out of the Van Wickle Gates and on to important things.

And so our unwillingness to talk with the other side is a real problem. If our future governors, congressmen, activists and justices are trained from college onward to lock in ideology and block off discussion, then that is exactly how they will govern. There is a vicious cycle of learned partisanship from college to career to children and back to college, and we are seeing the fruits of this pattern right now in Washington.

To break the cycle, someone needs to start the conversation, and it's going to have to be right here, on campus - because it's not going to happen in D.C. any time soon. That is why we founded the Brown Political Forum - to start the conversation.

Our mission is simple. Once a week, starting Sept. 17, Brown students from every point on the political spectrum will sit down to discuss a topic, from partial birth abortion to the Bush tax cuts to negative campaign ads. It will be a space free of party affiliation to share what you, as an individual, feel about the subject, to learn about what others think and to incorporate that knowledge into your own beliefs.

The Brown Political Forum is not devoted to finding the answers - that's something its members will do in the years and decades to come. The goal is to get people talking, to introduce people to modes of thought they simply haven't encountered before, and to make people comfortable with that disagreement. The goal is to make discussion and compromise second nature, not last resort.

There is no doubt that we can accomplish that goal. We do things as a community every day that would simply not be possible anywhere else. We have a drive, an optimism and a confidence that is unique to our campus, and starting right here, on that campus, we can start the conversation.

Brown students lead. To begin the fight and end these politically isolated, partisan times, all we need is a push. The Brown Political Forum is that push.

 

 

Ben Resnik '15 thinks everybody should just get along. He can be reached at 

benjamin_resnik@brown.edu


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