Today, politics seems to be at the topic of every headline, dinner conservation, and tweet. In the final installment of While I Have the Floor, two USC students who sit on opposite ends of the political spectrum—no, not Republicans and Democrats— discuss political participation. Miles Joyner, a politically active student and LGBTQ+ advocate, and Payne Skersick, an informed yet politically inactive student, discussed their motivations for their respective levels of political activism.
What is your level of political involvement?
JOYNER: I consider myself an advocate and an educator, which basically means I provide people with information that they need to be more knowledgeable on about the issues that are happening right now and the issues that are affecting us. I also will do my part in reaching out to my legislators, encouraging others to reach out to their legislators through text, calling them, emailing, showing up to their offices, and harassing them in the most legal ways possible.
SKERSICK: My political involvement extends to just pretty much taking in as much information as I possibly can and forming my own opinions, but I don’t really act upon them like [Joyner] would. I listen, I watch, I form my own opinions. To be politically active, it takes a lot of energy, and I get drained really easily. Really, just reading about politics I will get emotionally drained. I get that, like, it affects everyone, but it’s just sometimes things aren’t just for certain people.
Do you think the current climate has created a pressure to be politically involved?
JOYNER: There is a pressure. A lot of the communities that I’m involved in, we see the ability to step away from social issues as a kind of privilege a person can have. So, I can never stop experiencing politics as an LGBTQ person. I am constantly in politics because I have to be, and because not everybody in my community has a voice that they can share to they way that I can. Whereas somebody that doesn’t identify as LGBTQ, they can just kind of look at what’s happening and be like, ‘that’s bad,’ and then still kind of remove themselves from that situation—it’s not going to immediately impact their life.
SKERSICK: I am also part of the LGBTQ community. But I get it, and a lot of it really sucks because those are affecting my people and everything. Georgia just passed a bill [banning LGBTQ couples from adoption], but if it was me I’d just be like, ‘alright I’m just not going to live in Georgia.” I guess my approach to that is that if I don’t like it I’m just going to avoid it. I guess that’s a bad mindset, but it’s what works for me, and it separates it out of my life so I don’t have to deal with it.
Did your household growing up influence your views on politics and political participation today?
SKERSICK: Home affects a lot of people’s political opinions because when you’re growing up, the opinions you most respect are your parents’ opinions. So typically, a lot of people kind of form their own political opinions based off of what their parents do. But I think my parents are fairly conservative, and I’m not conservative.
JOYNER: I also grew up in a rather conservative home, which I feel like is the story for the South. I always wanted to make my parents proud and everything, but I can never say with assurance that I’ve ever shared their political views at any point in my life. The second that I kind of became aware of how the world works, I started shifting.
SKERSICK: Another thing with my household—I’m pretty sure I’m the only one in my household that’s not conservative. I remember, I think it was Christmas break, we all took like a hot minute to question things that were going on in politics and with each other— we were getting each other’s opinions. So we were having an open minded discussion to try and understand how other people viewed this major issue.
JOYNER: A lot of family holiday events turn into “I thought we weren’t going to talk about politics.”
SKERSICK: We were drunk, but it was surprisingly mellow.
Has college shifted those gears?
JOYNER: College didn’t really impact my political views that much. If anything, it just made my already strong convictions stronger. I still go home to seeing “Fox and Friends” on every night and just kind of groaning and leaving the room. It’s nice to be able to leave the “Fox and Friends” household every now and then and come to campus and have consciousness raising events with people that think like me, but a little differently. Use the building blocks that I have on my own and the passions that my parents kind of helped grow within me to build this new idea of self.
SKERSICK: I think college definitely helps because you’re surrounded by people who are educated and people who are open-minded. You’re surrounded by so many different ethnicities, backgrounds, and religions that you’re just kind of like open minded to it and you’re numb to the diversity, so you just see someone as a person.
Do you vote?
JOYNER: Oh, hell yeah.
What are your thoughts on ‘every vote matters’?
JOYNER: It matters contextually. I’m not going to sit here and say that gerrymandering does not exist and that your vote is not essentially going to get thrown in the trash because of the district that you live in. But what’s happening in a lot of these heavily Red states over the last year is that they’re being flipped to Blue. People are voting, their minds are being changed. I do think that young people need to vote more, but I’m not going to act like somebody is wrong for having their opinion that their vote doesn’t count. And that by not voting and not taking part in this system, they are protesting.
SKERSICK: I agree, I think it’s up to everyone’s opinion on whether they feel like they should vote or not. Something I recently realized is that the more you talk to people, the more you hear people say ‘Oh, I’m not voting because blah, blah, blah… my vote doesn’t matter,’ there’s going to be a number of people, quite a number of people, across the country that will also say their vote doesn’t matter. If all those people actually did vote that would make an impact.
Has the past election cycle affected your viewpoints?
SKERSICK: The past two years have really helped me filter out my Facebook friends, because Facebook is just a political war ground. Facebook, Twitter, those aren’t places I want to see people’s politics. If you want to talk about politics, discuss it in person, but I go on twitter to look at pictures of dogs and memes. It’s an escape from reality.
JOYNER: Well, I’m in the opposite situation because a lot of my activism is social media-based. So, I can’t afford not be always front-facing when considering the wonderful journey that is Fox News and the recent political climate. Have your stances caused issues with friends and family?
SKERSICK: I mean some people accuse me of not being active, but it’s my life, I can live it however I want. It doesn’t really affect me, I’m kind of apathetic to things that people contradict me to, but this recent political atmosphere has definitely made me pay more attention to it. But like I said before, I take a step back from it because it’s just a lot to take in.
JOYNER: I screen Facebook a lot. The second that I see somebody say something on my Facebook feed that I don’t have the energy for, I make a tick mark, and once they’ve hit like three ticks I either unfollow or just get rid of them. But that’s because it’s Facebook, it doesn’t actually matter. As far as my home dynamic, honestly my recent activism—while it’s made things tense during political discussions—it’s also educated my family a little bit more because they see that this is something I’m passionate about, so they’ve stepped out of their box.