By Mia Barkenaes, PNW Governor
As a JSA Governor, it is expected that I hold the values of JSA sacred to my heart. Most would even think there’s an unspoken requirement that Governors believe with the utmost faith that JSA’s mission is essential to our democracy. Generally, I believe in this mission. However, throughout my high school career, I’ve had my own reservations- even resentments- about the mission of JSA.
Here at JSA, our mission is to build the bridge between people with differing political opinions. We strive to foster not only discourse, but partnerships and connections between individuals whose values may initially seem incompatible.
We do this because we believe in the power of civil discourse; we believe in the open-mindedness of youth. As the nation struggles with hyperpolarization of political views, JSA students provide a shining ray of hope that unity is still possible.
In these ways, I agree with JSA’s mission. The inclusion of individuals representing political views across the spectrum is undeniably beneficial to the stability of our political climate.
However, as I’ve grown through JSA and developed my love for it, I’ve struggled with the idea of having to accept and respect all political opinions.
Although these situations are relatively rare, there are times when I hear students in JSA make statements that are grounded in sexism, racism, homophobia, or other forms of discrimination. In these cases, I’m forced to ask myself:
How can we encourage respect and tolerance of all political opinions, when some opinions are rooted in intolerance?
After four years of JSA, four years of debating, and four years of shaping my own views on politics and democracy, I’ve finally found my answer.
The issue lies not within JSA’s values of promoting respect for all political opinions, but rather that intolerance, in the form of sexism, racism, and homophobia, has been accepted as a valid political opinion in our society. When a society accepts intolerance as a political opinion, we not only normalize hateful speech and actions, we validate them.
By definition, discriminatory views can be considered political views when they influence government activity. However, we can reform our perspective of politics as a whole by defining it as governmental activity for the common good. This implies that political action cannot exclude certain groups or people. In this, we can eliminate the validation of discriminatory views as political opinions, as they are not for the common good.
JSA’s values are defined by the acronym LEAD, with the “D” standing for diversity and inclusion. The inclusion of all people requires they feel comfortable and safe not just voicing their political views, but also in existing. As an organization, JSA advocates for this; we provide a space for people to voice their views, when they otherwise might have been silenced by others’ intolerance. In this space, we encourage all students to remain open-minded, and to explore a variety of opinions. In its own way, JSA has redefined both politics and what it means to engage in a political community; now is the time for our society to collectively do so, as well.
As we confront political hyperpolarization, let’s advocate for inclusion and reform our definition of politics. Now, more than ever, is the time for us to promote inclusion and reject intolerance.