Politically active or apathetic?
Presidential campaigns redirect
student poitical activity,
seemed to attract a larger group of students than issues like the
code, military research, or South African divestment, it is
nowhere near the level of activity prevalent during the Vietnam
Klukoff agrees that the race issue differs greatly from the
protests over Contra funding and military research.
"The racism issue is separate from SDI and the Contras be-
cause those two issues don't affect us directly. Military re-
search takes place in some guy's laboratory or at Lawrence
Livermore Laboratories in California, the Contras are fighting
thousands of miles away in Nicaragua. Racism affects this
But, he said, presidential candidates aren't specifically ad-
dressing the problems of racism or civil rights in their cam-
"If you look at the political candidates right now, they're
not talking about the issues we're talking about here on cam-
pus. I have not heard any candidate talk about racism in this
country or even civil rights in general. They may be paying
lip service to it, but they don't have any specific policies."
Because of this, it is difficult for anti-racism activism to
extend directly into the national political scene. It would be
easy for those protesting institutional racism in the Univer-
sity, for example, to rally behind a candidate who promises to
battle institutional racism in the federal government.
Racism, though predominantly an issue on this campus and
some others, is not as prominent a political issue as it was in
the '60s during the height of the civil rights movement.
Markus outlined two strains in American ethical thinking:
the Judeo-Christian, "help your fellow neighbor" attitude and
the self-centered, yuppie attitude now prevalent.
Marcus said only a change of thinking can bring about the
popular committment to social issues that has been overtaken
in the past 10 years by the "rugged individualist," self-centered
ethics of the Reagan Era.
"Maybe it will come with a change in presidential adminis-
tration," Marcus said. "Maybe when the next economic reces-
sion hits, the response will be one of trying to share the bur-
den and the problems that that causes rather than just focusing
on self-survival at whatever expense. Maybe it will just be
boredom (with the obsession with oneself and economic secu-
rity) more than anything else."
"The total focus on oneself and one's ambitions - espe-
cially economic ambitions - for many people is just not ter-
ribly satisfying," Markus said. "(People) will start looking
elsewhere and looking for things to do that are both personally
fulfilling and also socially useful at the same time."
Whereas during the Vietnam War, students were, in part,
interested in saving themselves and their friends from the war,
students today tend to be self-interested economically.
This concern has been more prevalent during the Reagan
years with unemployment rates hovering between 7 and 9 per-
cent and jobs becoming harder to find. In 1969 the national
unemployment rate was 3.4 percent. In those days, students
didn't have the job worries that they have now and could turn
more of their attention toward fighting for social change.
But if unemployment rates have any correlation to political
activity, then there should currently be a rise in activism. The
most recent figures place the jobless rate at 5.7 percent, the
lowest level since Reagan took office.
"There's a concern for economic stability that at least these
days seems to be coupled with Republicans and conserva-
tivism," Markus said.
In 1984, many students who supported Reagan's bid for re-
election supported his economic policies more than his social
policies, and Klukoff believes college students are still looking
for a "safe financial future" just as they were in 1984.
"A lot of the students that voted for Reagan in '84 were
optimists, and Reagan's message was one of optimism - of
economic optimism," he said.
"I think students think we live in relatively good economic
times right now. I think they're fearful that they may have to
start paying for the deficit that we have," said Klukoff, an LSA
senior majoring in Political Science.
However, people are more concerned with the candidates'
stances on social issues than with their ability to manage the
economy, according to a nationwide survey conducted by
Gallup for the Times Mirror Corporation last year.
"Opinions about Social Justice relate more strongly than
any other political value to candidate preference," the report re-
leased in September said. "...This stands in contrast to 1980,
when opinions about the parties' abilities to manage the econ-
omy were driving the electorate, thus giving a major advantage
to the GOP."
T he opportunity for students to get involved in presiden-
tial campaigning is one that comes along only every four years
and is being eagerly pursued by a number of students of all
political persuasions. An estimated 275 students are actively
involved in campaigns for every candidate except U.S. Rep.
Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.). The campaigns for Massachusetts
Gov. Michael Dukakis and Illinois Senator Paul Simon claim
the highest numbers at 60 and 75 respectively.
The nature of the political process in Michigan has meant
that the Democratic groups are much larger than groups sup-
porting Republican candidates. Since delegates to the Republi-
can national convention have already been chosen, the work of
Republican candidate-supporting students is, for the most part,
done. The Democrats, however, have yet to chose their dele-
gates to the national convention in Atlanta, so students sup-
porting Democratic candidates are still hard at work.
Students are preparing massive phone-calling and possibly
mailings to bring out the vote for the Michigan caucuses.
Michigan delegates to the Republican national convention
were chosen in a state GOP convention last January. Delegates
to state convention were chosen in individual county conven-
tions across the state, and the the county conventions delegates
were elected in August, 198
Michigan Democrats wi
things that you believe in
"People really believe ir
he said. "(There's) no payof
No matter how importz
vently people protest or ral
different about being a part
playing a role in choosing t
"You can say 10 years f
or women's safety' or wha
Jackson in '88'... it seems
senior Rebecca Felton, wh
According to LSA senic
Simon's campaign, student
they really believe in Paul S
LSA first-year student J
on the Gary Hart campaign
former Colorado senator by
In the event Hart drops
many of the students worki
shift their support to whom
working for Hart) are pretty
By Andrew Mills
Photos by Karen Handelman
Many social observers have, over the past
few years, pronounced student activism dead.
And in light of the-recent, relative quiet on
college campuses across the nation, their eulogy seemsapt.
The Vietnam War and the civil rights movement - rallying
points for students, as well as the general population, 20 years
ago - are now just distant memories forhsome college
students and chapters in textbooks for many others.
But as the Ronald Reagan era comes to an end and a wide
open presidential race heats up, there is the prospect for a res-
urrection in student political activism. The opportunity for
students to get involved in campaign work - to move beyond
the Univesity's political arena of Diag rallies and marches to
the President's house - is one that won't come around again
for at least another four years.
In 1984, political observers said that a new conservatism
had swept college campuses due to Reagan's sound defeat of
former Vice President Walter Mondale. Reagan amassed 59
percent of the nationwide popular vote. Although Mondale
took 65 percent of the vote among University students in Ann
Arbor, among 18- to 24-year olds nationwide, Reagan beat
Mondale 59 percent to 41 percent.
Among full-time high school and college students nation-
ally, however, Mondale gained some ground, losing to Reagan
only by a 51-48 percent margin.
"College students today really have only one president in
their personal history and that's Ronald Reagan," said Political'
Mills is a Daily news reporter; Handelman is a photo editor
Science Prof. Greg Markus, a research scientist in the Center
for Political Studies. "If they have any other President in their
history it's Jimmy Carter, and the contrast between the two is
a fairly striking one... and that I think would tend to predis-
pose them in a Republican direction," he said. A current col-
lege sophomore was in seventh grade when Reagan took office
and was in third grade when Carter defeated former President
Gerald Ford in 1976.
Perennial campus activists have traditionally been more
left-leaning on a political spectrum than the majority of stu-
dents. Opposing aid to the Nicaraguan Contras, calling for di-
vestment in South Africa - rallying points for "liberals" on
the national political scene - have brought out protesters on
university campuses across the nation in years past.
It would seem, if the "Reagan Revolution" has moved col-
lege-age students more to the right, the level of activism
should drop accordingly. With fewer liberals shuldn't there be
fewer rallies and protests? Not neces .
While it is obvious that students are not at the level of po-
litical activity they were 20 years ago, many observers of the
University political scene say activism still thrives.
"Activism on the campus in the past four years has re-
mained constant," said Seth Klukoff, editor of the Michigan
Review, a conservative student-run campus magazine.
"The issues have changed, but I think the level of activism
has remained," he said.
"I don't know if (Reagan's) presidency made students shift
their political views," Kluckoff said. "I think it got students to
start thinking about different political issues which they hadn't
thought about before. Such as aid to the Nicaraguan Contras
Lou Velker, chair of the Washtenaw County Republicans
agreed. "I don't think Ronald Reagan made people more con-
servative; he brought out a lot of conservative leaning people,"
The question remains, however, as to how this relates to
the larger political scene - particularly to the current
presidential race. While students continue their protests over
uniquely campus controversies such as the code and military
research, there is no single issue that has unified students today
like the Vietnam War did in the '60s and '70s.
"I think for the most part, the Vietnam War was really a
very special kind of generational event and experience,"
Markus said, "It was not only a profound, politically impor-
tant event, but it was also an event that touched the lives of
that age group in a most direct way."
"There hasn't been an event of that sort or even of that
magnitude that is peculiar to that age group. Much of the
Vietnam activity was really self-interested activity. A fair
amount of it was genuine moral reaction to political policy,
but there was also a strong vein of self interest - this was a
group that was going to be drafted for the war or had close
friends who were going to be drafted," he said.
"I don't see any single event (coming up) that's likely to
galvanize large numbers of people," Markus said, noting that
the surprise and unpredictability of such events makes them
effective causes for protest.
The recent flurry of activity over racist incidents on campus
would seem such an event - something that affects students
as well as society at large. Although anti-racism activity has
Members of the Students for Dukakis group anxiously await vote returns from the Supe
this week. There are over 275 students actively involved in presidential campaigns
March 25. Any registered voter can attend.
This being the case, supporters of Democratic candidates
need to persuade registered voters to come to the caucuses and,
more importantly, to vote for their candidate.
Supporters of Republican candidates, on the other hand,
only needed to persuade the chosen delegates to vote for spe-
cific candidates at the national convention New Orleans. There
was no need for massive postering and phone efforts as there is
with the Democrats.
College Republicans President Jeff Johnson, an LSA ju-
nior, said because of this the number of students working on
the Republican campaigns is much lower than their Demo-
cratic counterparts. Only about 30 to 40 students total are
working on Republican campaigns, Johnson estimated. About
240 are working on Democratic campaigns.
According to many leaders of the "Students for..." groups
on campus, the attraction for students to work on presidential
campaigns is the opportunity to make a difference
"You want to feel like you're doing something to see the
The same is true for stu
Since students don't get pa
rather than the pocketbook
These campaigns are bri
cal arena. Those working or
activists that seem to be in
such as anti-Contra aid prota
"I don't see... the peopk
getting involved in these ca
rats' - the people you s
they're not involved."
However, a connection cc
politics and other, less main
sen as president directly affa
be. Without Ronald Reagar
Activism has always bec
continue to be - even wh
just a distant memory.
WEEKEND/MARCH 11, 1988
WEEKEND/MARCH 11, 1988