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Keep hope alive, take action to help yourself

I meant to sit down to write about President Barack Obama's budget plan — and its accompanying $100 billion cut to Pell Grant funding. Instead, I can't help but muse on the nature of hope.

"La esperanza muere última," the members of the United Farm Workers were once fond of saying – "hope dies last." As a leftist, a proud child of the working class and a member of the generation that came of political consciousness during the disastrous tenure of former President George W. Bush, I empathize with the bittersweet clarity of these words. Clinging to a seemingly powerless hope in the face of economic hardship and political alienation is a process that will wrench one's ventricles apart.

If you do not believe me, ask any of my brothers and sisters who campaigned against Educational Opportunity Fund budget cuts last year. Ask any of us who watched with hushed breath as the DREAM Act came closer to fruition than it ever had before, only to watch it shatter into hundreds of sad, unjust realities. Ask dozens of local student activists who have taken to heart something that civil libertarian Clarence Darrow once said, "Lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for." These people are not hard to find. They are your classmates, your friends and your neighbors, taking on the revolutionary act of keeping their heads up in a cruel world.

This need to keep our heads up, to refuse to let hope die, is what drew many young people in 2008 to Obama's campaign. I don't think any of us honestly expected the second coming of Franklin D. Roosevelt when we put holes in the soles of our shoes for the senator from Illinois. I personally was happy to settle for a slightly left-of-center, youngish politician who I could actually take seriously after eight long years of presidential malpractice. I know many former Obama supporters who are outraged whenever the president lets us down. I am not one of them and this is not that kind of essay. I understand why Obama feels the need to compromise with an increasingly hostile GOP, and I am sympathetic to his plight, having to balancing the ideals he ran on with the demands of special interests in his own party. After all, I cannot argue the fact that Obama has accomplished a great deal as president, and I remain hopeful that his biggest accomplishments are still before him.

This is what is particularly troubling to me about the $100 billion he is willing to cut from Pell Grants. These cuts, granted, will take place over the course of 10 years. However, one of the areas in which Obama has achieved great progress in the past has been in the area of funding for higher education. Indeed, the very week Obama released the budget plan that included these cuts, he took to the airwaves to repeat campaign rhetoric about the importance of restoring the value of an American education. Doublespeak aside, his new take on Pell Grants is a clear surrender of the high ground to the cult of the deficit. There is a concerted, bipartisan group in this country which takes an almost worshipful approach to anything dealing with the U.S. budget deficit. Instead of finding pragmatic solutions to the problem, they sacrifice social programs many Americans rely on. Cuts in Pell Grant funding represent one less thread in the fraying rope keeping America's working class from falling toward the lava below. Obama hasn't handed the cult of the deficit the scissors quite yet, but he is doing a poor job of keeping them out of reach.

It is clear that help for working class college students will not come from above. We cannot look toward Washington to save us. The same is doubly true for Trenton. During the campaign season, Obama was fond of asking audiences, "If not us, who? If not now, when?" To New Jersey's students, the answers to both of those questions should seem clear.

"La esperanza muere última" — but only if you choose to act upon it.

John Connelly is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in history and political science. 

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