November 24, 2017

ASP Rekindles Koumentakos’ Political Interest

American Studies Program cohort. Courtesy of Hope Koumentakos.

By Hope Koumentakos ’17
Contributor

On the last day of Dr. Brink’s class on justice, I turned to Hannah Wardell (‘17) and said, “I don’t think I believe in politics anymore.”

And I didn’t. Gordon’s Political Science department served me well. I loved studying the discipline more than ever, but I had evolved into a girl with Anabaptist-like political persuasions. “The system is too corrupt,” I thought. “We ought to stay out of it.”

So when I came to D.C. to participate in the American Studies Program (ASP), I chose an internship at The Samaritan Women, an anti-human trafficking organization that combines political advocacy and research with practical humanitarian work. Some of my peers also work at non-profits, but most of them work on Capitol Hill. I remember thinking, “Thank God I’m not doing that.”

There’s something about this city, though. Something about it has started radically changing my mind. For me, it began on Pennsylvania Avenue. Picture this: hundreds of conflicting ideas converging peacefully outside this mysterious house of power with a controversial inhabitant. Ideas are expressed in conversations between tourists, in the stance of police officers, in protests that march along the gated lawns, in t-shirts, and in loud shouts for justice, both comprehensible and not. The media says we’re more divided than ever, and maybe they’re right.

The former House members we met with recently would agree with such a statement. Bipartisan cooperation is seemingly impossible these days. We are living through an era of a highly irresponsible administration and a Congress that doesn’t do its job. “It’s easy to become disenchanted with it all,” said one of the former members. Yes, it absolutely is. That’s what happened to me.

Last semester, I decided it was too costly, too painful, to imagine entering the political sphere, only to fail in my attempts to advance the common good. But perhaps it’s more costly to not try at all.

If we don’t engage in politics, someone else will. Someone else will be responsible for hearing and responding to the diverse cries from Pennsylvania Avenue and beyond. Yes, the systems are corrupt, some politicians are in it for the power, and others hold to incomplete conceptions of justice. But isn’t that exactly why we should engage?

Being here, I see this crazy juxtaposition of power and Power every single day. Self-interested bureaucracy that disregards the least of these, right down the street from The Samaritan Women, run by Ms. Jeanne who sacrificed everything for friends who didn’t even know her yet. Of course it isn’t so black and white. Ms. Jeanne isn’t perfect. Politicians aren’t monsters. But overwhelmingly, things are not how they should be in the political sphere. Wouldn’t it be wonderful for politics to be considered a public service again? To have more people willing to sacrifice, to compromise, and to lay down their lives for a stranger? To admit when they mess up? To try to do better next time? To see more people trying again and again on behalf of the voiceless, even if it’s messy?

Humility will be crucial. There is no perfect formula for success. As Thomas Merton once said, “The real hope, then, is not in something we think we can do, but in God who is making something good out of it in some way we cannot see. If we can do His will, we will be helping in this process. But we will not necessarily know all about it beforehand.” Politics may be ugly and even impossible. But I hope we don’t take ourselves out of the picture just yet.

 

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