The best kind of activist isn’t a politician at all

| Forum Editor

The best kind of political activist isn’t a politician at all. For anyone looking to make a difference or to sway the country with your ideals, take this advice: stay out of politics. We constantly see examples in the media of politicians engaged in never-ending battles to assert their party’s inherent superiority over the ideals of the opposition. The relentless nature of this back-and-forth is disguised as an effort to further a cause. In many instances this may be the case; however, as words such as conservative, liberal and even bipartisan are thrown around to sway votes and public opinion, the transparency of politics is extremely evident. Offices in Washington are filled by Republicans, followed by Democrats and followed by Republicans again on the basis of issues that have starred at the forefront of America’s consciousness for decades. It seems valid to question whether these “leaders” are indeed capable of representing our country’s best interests. In a time of economic, national and moral insecurity, to whom should we look for guidance?

There is no shortage of public figures vying for approval; but the less-published but potentially more-important news is that there are many citizens, both ordinary and extraordinary, who have changed public policy without nasty campaigns and official elections.

One such example is Theodore Olson, a Republican lawyer who has chosen to represent same-sex couples’ efforts to overturn California’s ban on gay marriage. To say that Ted Olson is a Republican or a conservative is an understatement. This is the man who headed the Office of Legal Counsel under Ronald Reagan and advised Republicans in their effort to impeach Bill Clinton. He was responsible for George W. Bush’s presidency after persuading the Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore and defended the president’s claims of expanded powers during wartime.

Yet though Olson is a Republican, he does not blindly subscribe to all notably Republican viewpoints. Olson doesn’t follow the knee-jerk reactions many politicians have built careers upon, and when approached by a team looking for a lawyer to challenge Proposition 8, the California ballot initiative that outlawed same-sex marriage in the state, he did not abandon his political principles but rather rose to them.

There is a difference between standing for equal rights and fighting for them. Those who are not quick to jump on any political bandwagon but bring about positive change by thoroughly examining all perspectives exemplify this difference.

Olson’s choice to argue on behalf of two gay couples in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, a federal case challenging Proposition 8, wasn’t well received by many of his Republican colleagues. Fortunately popularity was never Olson’s priority, which highlights a fundamental problem that exists with our current political system. In order to get in the position of making laws and upholding the Constitution, one must adhere to a set of rules. These are not the rules laid out by Jefferson, Madison or Washington when they scripted our nation’s principles, nor are they the democratic rules of our government; rather, they are the rules of a political party, rules that stifle our country’s potential.

As a Democrat, I would be lying if I said I fully analyzed every aspect of the issues I’ve chosen to represent. It is easy to pick a side, develop a belief system and belong. Why second-guess health care and national security? Why not allow Republican ideals to immediately raise red flags in my mind simply because they are Republican?

Olson and many others like him who take the more difficult road and question their own beliefs have shown me why. Olson believes in equality under the Constitution; he believes in freedom from government interference and in individual liberty. These are the rules that drive him. Olson took on the case because he sees gay marriage as a civil-rights issue and has found no legitimate argument for why same-sex couples should be denied the fundamental right to marriage. True to form, he has sought out all perspectives but has found no legal precedent behind the opposition’s claims. “They had all sorts of intangible instincts and feelings about what’s ‘right,’” Olson told Newsweek of both friends’ and adversaries’ arguments. “But I didn’t hear any persuasive response.”

The danger of politics stems from the inherent separation it creates. Clear political lines have been drawn and it seems it may take an outsider to cross them. Olson’s reasoning is simple: “This is not a conservative or liberal issue; it is an American one, and it is time that we, as Americans, embraced it.”

  • Marilyn Kroll

    Great article. I, too, am a democrat and I thououghly agree.

  • J.Rotblatt

    Alissa,good article….one question….why are you a Democrat ?