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A new political era in America

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JULY 15, 2022

Nearly every issue in politics today has slowly become a black-and-white issue. There isn’t a middle ground, just two distinct sides: right and left. 

At a school like UC Berkeley, the latter is seen as a defining point of the school. It is a place where the Free Speech Movement originated, LGBTQ+ rights were fought for and president John F. Kennedy has spoken. These momentous occasions shaped the way Berkeley embodies politics. 

However, today, politics at UC Berkeley have moved in a direction similar to the rest of the country. It is a polarizing topic where one voice dominates the other. Just because many of UC Berkeley’s historic accomplishments represent the left doesn’t mean opposing perspectives shouldn’t be heard. 

Progress isn’t made without constructive conversation, and in recent years, that has been lacking in the UC Berkeley community. All too often, it is an echo chamber, and I can attest to that.

Walking onto campus, I felt siloed when I didn’t agree with common consensus. There was a strong distinction between each party, but not much connection between the two. It’s why I joined BridgeUSA.

BridgeUSA started on UC Berkeley’s campus for this exact reason. Our founder, a national leader featured in Forbes’ 30 under 30 list, stressed the importance of temperament. Temperament has nothing to do with politics but has everything to do with respect. With this, he defined BridgeUSA as nonpartisan, where practicing empathy when discussing difficult subjects was more important than “winning” the argument.

The most fundamental part of nonpartisanship is being unbiased. Today, we can hear a person’s party affiliation and have an automatic perception of their every opinion. BridgeUSA aims to change that through constructive dialogue.

Democrat and Republican are terms that we hear all the time, but the same cannot be said for nonpartisanship. Nonpartisanship is the opposite of the common theme in modern politics: tying the party to one stance on an issue. 

Joining a nonpartisan organization was far from what I expected my Berkeley experience to be, but it ended up being crucial to my understanding of modern politics in the country and on campus.

We are a generation of change, even if we don’t agree on the type of change. Our generation may be young, but we have lived through some historical events: 9/11, the Great Recession, the 2016 election and the 2020 election, where the question of overturning the election first arose. Each of these events marked a time where a fundamental aspect of American society changed. 

It is difficult to be optimistic about such a challenging time in history. It is what fundamentally led to the temperamental extremes being the loudest voices. The extremes are not ideological; they’re hypersensitive, and that is often confused in the media. 

This idea has been perpetrated because people who share similar beliefs tend to get information from similar sources. By having conversations with people with different beliefs rather than solely remaining in an echo chamber, there is an opportunity to incorporate basic empathy back into politics, a concept that has been lost in recent years. 

The United States is the most complicated, ambitious and uncertain experiment society has to offer. Although ambition comes with immense opportunity, it also carries risk. This is seen in the major trends currently shaping our democracy. Some have been around for decades and others are completely new. The combination of it all makes the United States one big experiment. 

For example, rapid changes in technology have allowed false news to spread at six times the rate of real news on Twitter. People are oftentimes only hearing the extremes from their chosen sources. 

The rise in polarization stems from uncertainty that trends such as these have instilled. I wrote this to pose a challenge to each reader. Rather than only engaging in discourse with those you agree with, have a conversation with someone of a different perspective. 

Don’t shy away from conversations that may not seem easy. By that, I don’t mean to try to convince them everything they say is wrong and you are right. I mean to genuinely listen and not necessarily agree, but recognize where they’re coming from. 

For Berkeley to continue being the progressive school it is so well known for, we as students have to be willing to hear all sides of an issue. The lack of willingness to listen to alternative viewpoints isn’t specific to Berkeley — it is a national problem — but what better place to start than right on campus? 

Samaya Patel is the president of BridgeUSA at UC Berkeley.

JULY 17, 2022