We all need training in local politics | Opinion









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Politics is more than what’s on the news. Politics is the success and failure of the society in which you live. It’s both your daily commute and your fear of a school shooter. These are big problems, but not ones we can’t solve. We lose because we are fighting the wrong battle.

The majority of issues that have the most effect on the lives of UW students, and the biggest space in our heads, are decided at the subnational level – at Olympia or City Hall. Congress can’t get 60 votes on anything, the Supreme Court isn’t on your side, and Biden isn’t coming to save you. But the city council is extending the tie to reduce rush-hour traffic, and Governor Inslee has signed new gun laws to limit the size of magazines.

As the national political environment becomes more blocked and less able to act on the wishes of the American people, the differences in state and local laws across the country will become more evident and more significant. A month ago you had the right to an abortion in all 50 states. Now the necessity of the 1991 referendum that codified Roe v. Wade in Washington state law is starkly obvious.

How, then, does our university prepare its students to fight this battle? Not good. The University of Washington’s Department of Political Science has a catalog of 251 courses. Only five explicitly address US policy at the subnational level. They are:

POLS 381: Urban Politics and Policies in the United States

POLS 382: State Government

POLS 453: The State Legislature

POLS 481: Big City Politics

POLS 587: Politics of Urban Reform

According to Meera Roy, director of academic services for the department, four of these five are not taught due to a lack of suitable professors. They went out. POLS 382 was scheduled for Spring Term 2023 but has also been canceled as the regular instructor is unavailable this year. So instead, we end up with nothing. Students, frustrated by all the undue national attention, who want to use their education to bring about change in their community, are left with next to nothing.

The Department of Political Science has, as stated on its website, devoted itself to “the study of the institutions and processes that constitute public life”, to “understanding the exercise of political power” and to “the providing an education that inculcates citizenship”. These three ideas are better understood at the local level. Public life happens here – in the fraternities, in the classrooms, at Earl’s. Political power happens here – when the SPD won back CHAZ Citizenship happens here – during naturalization ceremonies at the US Citizenship and Immigration Services field office in Tukwila. UW’s political science department is failing itself and its students by ignoring local politics in its curriculum.

This piece is not just a critique of my main department. It is also a positive example of what a better education in local politics can do to empower the student-citizen in all of us.

In which district of the town hall do you live? Who is your Council member? You can find out here. If you live in or around UW, you’re probably in District 4, represented by Alex Pedersen, but that’s about to change.

The City of Seattle has until January 2023 to create new city council districts as per the 2020 census. There are four proposed maps for District 4. You can find them here. The shape of the district will determine the electorate, and the electorate will decide who our council member is and how they use their power.

Are you a tenant? Do you want your advisor to fight for tenants’ rights? Well, you should support a neighborhood map that will include more tenants. You can do this by making your opinion known to the Seattle Redistricting Commission at any time until November, when it must make its final vote.

Seattle is unique in many ways, but not in this one. This same process happens every 10 years, in every locality across the country. It determines the composition of each local election and of each local politician. This is why you spent an hour commuting to work today, and why you were slightly less likely to get shot while doing so. This is how you can change the world around you. That’s what you should learn in school.

Sean Haney

UW BA, Political Science and International Studies 2023

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