Forum

When political fires burn out

2020 has barely begun, but it already feels stretched out. Trump’s impeachment dominates the main pages of basically every news outlet. Democratic activists are fragmented and shouting at each other, insisting that their choice of candidate is the only one that can beat Trump in the upcoming election. Your social media feed is probably no exception to this trend, with your friends sharing news updates and trying to make sense of the world. These same topics with the same handful of opinions appear to be the only noise worth making.

It might seem hard to argue that events like the impeachment process or the 2020 presidential election are undeserving of our attention. However, there comes a point where all our energy is being spent on a handful of issues, and we overlook other crucial topics that are worth our attention. We might even find ourselves losing our stamina for action.

Political burnout can sap motivation to take proactive steps towards change or otherwise continue to engage in the world. Although visceral reactions of outrage might have good intentions, what has come out of the short-lived anger after seeing sensationalist headlines? Maybe you clicked “retweet” or reacted to some posts on Facebook. Maybe you marched in some protests here and there or called your local representative and went on with your day as usual.

The world needs this kind of passion, but we need to be mindful that these few issues that appear to be all-encompassing in our current world are not the only ones at hand. Amid the impeachment process, how many of us were aware that pharmaceutical executive John Kapoor was sentenced to 66 months in prison, a step towards holding pharmaceutical companies accountable for their contribution to the opioid epidemic? How many of us are aware that the travel ban will be extended? How about the protests in Puerto Rico that are calling for Governor Vazquez to step down, one even bringing a guillotine to the governor’s mansion?

It’s hard to keep track of everything happening at any moment, especially when it feels inescapable in your environment. Online algorithms know that you’re more likely to click on a feel-good story about a cute baby koala rescued from an Australia bushfire than you would Colombia’s Amazon tribes’ tapping into rainforest protection funds or the emerging Amazon Council that intends to enforce environmental policies.

Don't underestimate the importance of local news. Part of being an active member of society is being aware of who represents your area or how your local politics can protect you and your neighbors. Learn about the large polluters that contribute to Pittsburgh's poor air quality, and hold these plants accountable for endangering the city's health. Our city is planning to adopt law enforcement assisted diversion (LEAD) to avoid throwing nonviolent criminals into jail and, instead, tackle the issues that drove them to crime. Our public transportation system has shrunken and become less accessible. These issues may appear to be relatively small in comparison to the "big-issue" topics on your Snapchat story recommendations, but local engagement can help create the foundations for new policies and larger-scale change.

With all this being said, it's also important to remember to take a break when you need one. After inescapable, repetitive, and seemingly fruitless discussions about the current presidency, at what point does our adrenaline crash into overwhelming fatigue? Outrage fatigue can emerge from the constant bombardment of global issues. To combat this, let's try to maintain our political energy by refocusing our attention to different causes that we can commit ourselves to. Try to be more conscientious of when your built-up rage and want for action shifts into cynicism and hopelessness. Especially in turbulent times, it's important to learn how to rest rather than quitting.