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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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A Woodstock for political nerds

Over the weekend, I attended the Texas Tribune Festival in Austin. Now in its fourth year, the festival works to create an environment for public discussion on political issues. Political figures and experts discuss topics like immigration, open government, public education, higher education, justice, transportation, health care, environment and energy. In many of the panels, audience members are allowed to ask questions.
The festival was fantastic — and not just by the standards of political nerds — because it actually involved a civil political discussion from both sides of the political spectrum, a refreshing change from the scripted speeches or vague statements that many associate with politics.
I sat in on a discussion of same-sex marriage laws in Texas. The panel included three state representatives — two Republican and one Democratic — along with other speakers. I’ll admit, I was concerned at first. I was so sure that all the representatives would do was talk about their party line, skimming the issue to keep up their political image, but fortunately, I was mistaken.
Both sides actually gave their own opinions, voicing their own thoughts rather than some fluffed up statement. It was so real, and for that one hour I felt that I was actually learning something as each panelist discussed their definition of marriage. There a Republican said that if the Republican Party hopes to stay with the times, it may have to rethink its stance on same-sex marriage.
While it is impossible to attend everything without a Time Turner or a TARDIS, all the panels I did attend proceeded in the same fashion. From what I was able to listen to, I know that this event was in a class of its own.
But here’s the thing — I haven’t heard of anything A&M does that is like this public conversation. Sure, we’ve had political figures speak at campus, but did they truly talk about the issues, or did they just say what they needed to say to get the applause?
Even though members of the A&M system and people from College Station spoke at the event, I never heard it advertised on campus. With the Bush School, which places so much focus on public policy, this was a missed opportunity.
But don’t let this deter you. You don’t need a festival to have political discussion. Create your own discussions. Don’t be afraid to hear what the opposite side has to say on an issue. You may disagree with it wholeheartedly, but understanding how others see issues actually makes you more educated and more of an expert on your own opinion.
It doesn’t have to all be serious either. With quips and jokes thrown around all weekend at TribFest, the event was anything but a dreary lecture.
A political conversation is not the same as an argument or even a debate either. It is a discussion, the chance for all sides to have a voice, and in the end this is better for everyone.
I encourage A&M as a whole to create public discussions like TribFest. Texas A&M was one of the sponsors of the event. Austin is only about an hour and a half away from campus, but it would be even more beneficial if students would only have to go 10 minutes to hear an intelligent, thorough discussion from people who know what they’re talking about.
As students, we are the next leaders, like it or not. Sometimes it seems that politics don’t affect us, and therefore we shouldn’t have to care. Nothing could be further from the truth. Public education, transportation, energy, health care — these issues matter. Look at it like this — schools for our children, gridlock on the highway, electricity, a trip to the emergency room. These four things fit into the four categories I mentioned, things that we deal with today or will deal with in our future. That’s why the issues matter and why we should care.
You can have your opinions without hearing other sides of an issue. Many people do. But public political discussion provides an opportunity to gain more insight into issues and give real-world examples instead of relying on what a politician says during a speech, which often contains only scripted words and fake emotions.

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