Sweet Home Politics

Wednesday, December 13th, 2017   |   Español

Author Archives: Ross Green

  1. Why Campus Matters

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    The Campus Matters section of Sweet Home Politics has been designed to serve as a statewide forum chronicling issues surrounding higher education from the perspectives of students, professors and professionals at Alabama’s colleges and universities.

    We believe that the cultures established at the state’s universities and colleges have a long term impact on the state. Additionally, the funding and management of our education system directly impacts Alabama voters annually, through budget debates. To address the perceived separation of students and the state, we must begin by increasing the quality of dialogue. It is our mission to organize the voices in higher education for the purposes of effective communication through news, opinion and analysis.

    Campus Matters is coordinated and developed by students, but it will regularly host contributions from professionals, advocates and decision-makers in higher education.

    College newspapers fundamentally cater to students, but they are not the only stakeholders in campus affairs. Professionals like faculty and administrators, along with advocates of higher education, are often overlooked for their insight into what’s going on at Alabama’s colleges and universities.  Stories come and go without any lasting dialogue or inquiry across perspectives, perpetuating a culture of misunderstanding.

    Certainly Alabama’s student newspapers deserve credit. The University of Alabama’s home for student news, The Crimson White, has received national recognition for its story about the still-segregated Greek system. Now a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, “The Final Barrier,” was a watershed moment for student voices in higher education.

    But instead of providing the start of a needed dialogue on race in Alabama, we witnessed a fragmentation of opportunity.  In what should have been a turning point for the University and the fuel for progress, fingers started pointing and in the anger and frustration, people burned out. The momentum for the issue in turn lost steam and things at the University remain largely the same.

    This fragmentation and lost opportunity stemmed from isolation at the heart of failed communication.

    It is our belief at Campus Matters that every college and university in Alabama can benefit from the opening up of communication and the broadening of perspectives. By turning cornered conversations into deliberative dialogue, we hope to provide that much needed forum.

    Sweet Home Politics and Campus Matters

    As stated, Alabama’s colleges and universities can serve as a microcosm of the state’s successes and failures. But they also reveal the state’s future. As an opinion-driven online forum that focuses on Alabama news and politics, Sweet Home Politics is the natural home for Campus Matters.

    What happens in higher education today matters tomorrow.

    In a state where less than a third of residents hold a college degree, the decisions made in higher education have the opportunity to make or break Alabama’s future. Prosperity is inextricably linked to access to education incumbent on tuition. But tuition and tax dollars only provide part of the story. Enriching the culture of Alabama’s colleges and universities remains the key to greater opportunity and retaining bright young people to invest in the state after graduation.

    Campus Matters is committed to ensuring that the voices of tomorrow are heard today. Whether it’s an education budget bill that impacts tuition or a student movement that can inspire fellow institutions, we intend to provide the necessary and often dismissed perspectives to allow our readers to develop informed opinions. We hope that these opinions lead to responses that will make our state better.

    As students, professionals and decision-makers in higher education, Campus Matters will serve as an on-the-ground and in-the-vein resource for the news and notes that matter to you. In doing so, we hope to empower the voices of higher education to impact the politics and direction of Alabama.

  2. Intern — Because It Matters Today

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    Hours before most of us would normally hit the snooze button, 20 high school and college students trickled into a sanitized room, where the only thing animating the beige walls were the smiling faces of professional organizers. It was a Saturday morning in Montgomery, and, with a few months out before election season kicks off, that meant intern training.

    There were the few that brimmed with overbearing confidence, plugging a relation to senator so-and-so or previous work in such-and-such — possibly even a DC connection. Most, however, just thought they should do something, and politics seemed like the most interesting thing to try. Terms like “apathy” and “civic engagement” would be thrown around, but most of us knew we really just needed to fill out that résumé. Having done this all before, I remembered the first time wanting to gain a few tangible skills to contribute to another, more competitive state — at least for when I got older.

    The training was for Empower Alabama, a non-partisan grassroots organizing movement that intends to bring balance back to the State Legislature. As progressives, we believed in the cause, and maybe even believed the organization could make a difference. But at the end of the day, we were still just interns.

    Intern. It’s a title one almost hates to use. Connoting scape-goat and work mule, it’s not the sexy picture we come to expect from “The West Wing.” Nor does it reflect the proximity to power, however corrupt, in “House of Cards.” Not much glory in fetching coffee and make copies after all.

    As the training continued, the enthusiasm of the organizers couldn’t help but wear off. In a time when Alabama seems as politically entrenched as it was during the “solid South” of Jim Crow, college students were being told they could make a difference — outside of Montgomery as usual.

    Being told you’re needed is nice, but it’s even better when it is true.

    Alabama’s college students have a unique opportunity to change the course of this upcoming election. Ask any candidate about their biggest concerns for November. You’re likely to hear two things (other than votes): fundraising and outreach. Students lack the traditional financial resources found in politics, but we make up for it in breadth of influence and innovation. It’s high time we bring the newest technologies of Washington to towns like Winfield. If we can crowd source the much needed “Veronica Mars” conclusion, why not a House seat?

    Social media savvy, moreover, is seriously lacking in Montgomery. A campaign that meets potential voters where they are will have a better chance of connecting them to where they need to be. And no, that likely can’t happen through the bloviating of the 55+ white men running for office.

    But don’t take the word of an intern for it.

    “[It’s] absolutely crucial to get more young people involved in the electoral process,” Empower Alabama executive director Bradley Davidson says. “There are well over 100,000 eligible young people under the age of 30 in Alabama who aren’t registered to vote, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of young people who are registered but don’t usually turn out in a non-presidential year.”

    Empower Alabama is harnessing the talent and energy of college students throughout the state. Students from UA, Auburn, UA-Huntsville, Montevallo, Tuskegee, and more have already gotten involved.

    “We want our state government, especially our Legislature, to be more reflective of and responsive to the whole state and we need young people to help us get there,” Davidson adds.

    This isn’t just about coordinated state-wide foundations, either. Freshmen representatives in the State House from both sides of the aisle have been seen tapping into student support.

    Since election in 2010, Rep. Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa) has quickly risen to prominence. The first House freshman ever to chair the Ways and Means Education Committee, Poole is backed by a ground army of over 100 volunteers from the University of Alabama.

    The support from students has not gone unrequited. In developing the state’s new education budget, Poole’s committee has undone a $10 million cut to Alabama State University from the Senate version. The budget also includes increases for two and four-year colleges, however slim, at a time when budget cuts have become almost impulsive.

    Fellow freshman Rep. Darrio Melton (D-Selma) has also tapped into the power of students. What could’ve been a largely irrelevant Democrat under the burden of the Republican Supermajority, Melton has stepped onto statewide stage.

    “Bringing young people into the fold is a great opportunity because they’re so in tuned with what’s going on in the community,” he says. “They’re the future of the state but they also have the opportunity to impact the present.”

    Melton’s graphics and social media are leaving the leadership of both caucuses in the dust. And with that online presence comes resources. Melton concluded that harnessing the power of students keeps his campaign and legislative efforts fresh, responsive, and adaptive for an ever-changing political landscape.

    Beth Clayton, one of the young people making a difference on Melton’s staff, is also the executive vice president for Alabama Young Democrats.

    “When young people are succeeding and effecting change, the state is succeeding,” she says.

    Both Poole and Melton are making use of Alabama’s future for today, and these students will remember them for it.

    The fact is that our politicians care deeply when a concerned constituent writes to them.  But they care even more when that constituent is actively working for the other side. This isn’t about some lofty ideal of volunteering to improve democracy. It’s about students finally leveraging themselves to influence the decisions made in our state. We have the resources, skills and — dare I say it — ambition to do so.

    For too long, our state has relied on an activist base of retirees rather than students. For too long, politicians have dismissed the public opinion on vibrant college campuses in favor of stagnant subdivisions.

    It is, after all, our future. So why not make it ours today?