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Why Basic Political Knowledge is a Necessary Evil

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Wisconsin chapter.

how the Willow Project reaction exposed flaws in our thinking

In recent years, the rise of social media has caused political information and activism to proliferate. We saw this with the Black Lives Matter movement in particular, where I think everyone could relate to seeing story post after story post about political issues on Instagram and maybe even posting their own information. There are lots of benefits to this – social and political problems are easily brought to light and can reach a large number of people in a short time and ignorance of these issues is increasingly more difficult. However, this fast-moving and limited information can be dangerous for many reasons, but the one that prevails is a general lack of political knowledge.

Now, when I refer to political knowledge, I don’t mean following the daily news or constantly expanding your knowledge on current issues. That isn’t always practical or necessary. What I do mean is understanding how our political system works. You know, the good stuff: separation of powers, the three branches, how bills get passed, the Supreme Court. Trust me, I know it can get boring – that’s why I describe it as a necessary evil – but as much as our generation likes to spread information on political topics, many people lack a basic understanding of these functions, which can greatly distort how we view issues.

Part of the problem stems from the U.S.’s lack of civic education, a disservice that deserves its own article. But I’m a firm believer that as U.S. citizens, we should have a basic understanding of our government. This doesn’t mean you have to get a degree in political science or take extensive classes on government, but it does mean we should all take advantage of opportunities to learn when we can. This knowledge is critical even to those who don’t pay attention to every political topic (myself included), as seeing only headlines or story posts can leave out important information.

I was reminded of the importance of basic political knowledge with the recent passing of the Willow Project by the Biden Administration. For anyone who doesn’t know, the Willow Project is an oil drilling project in Alaska that would not only severely damage wildlife but also have long-term consequences for carbon emissions; it has essentially been marked an environmental disaster, sparking some of the biggest public outrages I’ve seen in a while and for very good reason. However, most of this anger has been directed toward Biden himself – it’s even taken up the majority of his Instagram comments. It’s easy to understand why: the Biden administration passed it, implying they’re at fault. But when more research is done, it isn’t that simple.

In fact, the project had already been approved and given substantial legal authority. If Biden hadn’t passed it, the corporation would’ve taken the administration to court and likely won, and not only would the project continue but the government would owe a settlement. Now, it’s also entirely possible and even probable that Biden was heavily lobbied and given some leverage to pass it instead of creating more legal hurdles for the corporation. Yet, that doesn’t change his legal constraints or the fact that he did reduce the size of the project.

I didn’t realize the president was so constrained at first, and it’s clear many others don’t either. This is why basic knowledge is so necessary before we continue to spread information, and it’s something that can be gained with a little more research. Given how quickly news spreads and how attentive we can all be to these headlines, truly understanding the political system can make a huge difference in how we view things. For Biden, this project feels like political suicide for a president that might very well run again (which in my mind is even further proof he didn’t have complete control over it). The same goes for public opinion of the president during inflation – the public assumes presidents have far more power than they really do.

The Willow Project has demonstrated a fundamental problem in current political activism. Failing to understand the workings of government can lead to a severe misunderstanding of the problem, where to direct our efforts and frustration, and how to solve it (hint: it’s not commenting on Biden’s Instagram). Unless we change the culture around political knowledge, these trends will continue happening. We all have a duty to do our research when needed, which goes for those generally disinterested in politics but especially those who are the first to share a post on their story. Social media can be a positive tool, but only if we use it responsibly to provide full and accurate information on important issues.

Angie Bloechl

Wisconsin '25

Angie is a junior at UW-Madison this year studying economics. She love listening to podcasts, reading & painting!