In a study done by Livability, Ann Arbor was ranked the 7th best city in the country for liberals and MLive ranked Washtenaw County the most liberal in Michigan. With the 2020 election behind us, the newest political generation at Ann Arbor Pioneer began to grapple with growing up in this climate and all that it entails.
In the 2020 presidential election Washtenaw County voted for Biden over Trump by a margin of 47%, one of the widest margins in America. This gap was even larger among voters below 24 years old, which caused Pioneer students like seniors Francesca Checuti and Jason Li to be surprised at how close the election was. “I didn’t realize that so many people still supported Trump after four years of scandal after scandal,” Li said.
Chetcuti agreed. “ I thought Biden was going to win in a landslide, but that was definitely not the case. It was disheartening to see how many people voted for Trump,” she said.
The tilted lens comes from a political atmosphere in Ann Arbor that Checuti calls a “liberal echo chamber” and Li calls a “liberal political bubble.”
Pioneer Civics and Government teacher Rebecca Ball confirms that the beliefs of Ann Arbor are represented within the high school. “Throughout my teaching career, I have never had a Civics or Government class that wasn’t overwhelmingly liberal,” she said.
Ball’s perspective on handling her inherent political opinions in the classroom has been to present facts as objectively as possible. “I try to teach my students to be proud of this country’s ideals, but to see its flaws clearly,” she said. “I teach them what we are, and then I let them decide if that is what we should be. I hope I teach them to think for themselves.”
However, learning day to day in such a one-sided environment has been challenging for the conservative minority at Pioneer. “I mostly have to stay silent out of fear of ridicule or ostracism,” said a Pioneer student who asked to remain anonymous due to fear of bullying.
Due to Pioneer’s activist student body, there are times when staying silent is not enough to avoid confrontation. “When there were the string of walkouts freshman and sophomore year, I did not attend and had to defend myself numerous times for choosing to stay in class,” the senior said. “I was openly laughed at in class for stating my opinion several times, and the teachers said and did nothing.”
Li, who holds a more liberal ideology, says he has witnessed the same type of attitude towards conservatives at Pioneer. “I think that Ann Arbor is a great political climate that other cities look up to, but that shouldn’t make us feel superior to the point of arrogance, which, unfortunately, is something that I see far too often at Pioneer,” he said.
The anonymous student also discussed the ramifications of the current environment in Ann Arbor on free speech. “There are countless Biden-Harris signs around town, but the instant a Trump-Pence sign is put up, it is stolen or vandalized. This creates an oppression of ideas in the community,” the student said.
Ball echoes the need for diversity in opinions. “The issues our nation faces are complex. Simplistic, one-sided solutions or an inability to see practical realities will never see us through the problems we face,” she said.
Another consequence of Ann Arbor’s political echo chamber is the spreading of misinformation, especially amongst Pioneer students. “I have seen countless posts on social media either spreading false information or taking things completely out of context,” said the anonymous student.
Li believes that this phenomenon may be attributable to the ethos that comes with growing up in a college town. “A lot of people here seem to think living in Ann Arbor somehow makes our arguments superior or us more knowledgeable, yet we never take the time to conduct our own research on subjects we really know nothing about,” he said.
An increasing number of Pioneer students like Li and Checuti have recognized the issues with their home city and would like to make some changes. “Ann Arbor is a liberal echo chamber. I used to be okay with that. Opinions were being voiced that matched mine, so it didn’t bother me. However, I have come to realize that in order to have a healthy political climate, we need to be able to discuss opposing views without judgement,” Checuti said.
Although Ann Arbor has some of these negative tendencies there are political qualities about the town that Pioneer students would never want to change. “We are a town that recognizes the problems people are facing in the U.S. People in Ann Arbor, specifically the younger generations, are very politically minded,” Checuti said.
Even students who do not agree with everything that is being preached in Ann Arbor have respect for the activism that occurs. “I saw an upsurge of posts on social media, protests, and a call to action unlike any we have seen. It was neat to see lots of people getting involved, though it may not have always been in a productive fashion,” the anonymous student said.
This student also went on to say that although growing up conservative in Ann Arbor has been a challenge, there is a sense of community from people who have endured the same thing. “I have found a sense of camaraderie amongst neighbors and others that have conservative views in Ann Arbor,” the student said. “I will compliment customers at work when I see them wearing articles of clothing indicating conservative beliefs, and their shocked smiles are indicative that they do not hear many positive remarks.”
Bringing down the barriers between these two communities is the solution to many of Ann Arbor’s political problems says Ball. “In my mind, much of the animosity toward one another that is felt on both sides might be minimized if people simply knew and talked with one another,” she said. “It is easy to demonize other people if you never see or speak to them.”
Checuti says Ann Arbor is an example of both the problem and the solution when it comes to the political divisiveness that America is undergoing today. The liberal echo chamber phenomenon is part of the problem and needs to change, she said, but Ann Arbor also is “a town that encourages political involvement, and that is where we are a part of the solution.”