Mennen Middlebrooks: Why I Vote

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Mennen Middlebrooks is a graduate student in the School of Architecture and in the Batten School.

Why are you voting, why is it so important?

I feel like it is my civic duty to do so, and it’s a right and a privilege that has been earned by generations before us. For me, it’s almost a necessity to have my voice heard even in the smallest of senses...(With the relatively smaller numbers of people voting in midterm elections,) it’s going to take people like us students, combined with friends and colleagues elsewhere, to come forth and put effort into ensuring that all voices are heard on November 6th. This particular election will be very telling as to the trajectory of where the country goes in the near future, and I find it important to alter its current route in an impactful way. Again, voting is just the start.

What issues are most important to you as you’re going to make your vote?

A lot of environmental issues are highly important to me. I think, at the national scale, between the EPA and the National Parks, these issues have definitely taken a back seat since 2016, not that the Obama era was perfect by any means, but we were definitely making strides in the right direction, towards conservation efforts that we’re now up in the air as to what’s going to happen. And even in the present tense, those issues are very troubling. We’re in an era where we could do something meaningful about these changes we have brought about ourselves, even to the marginal level of abating some forms of climate change by human standards and capabilities... Graduate school has revealed to me that we’re losing grasp of that time frame to act, so that’s highly important to me to make necessary changes in planning and policy here and now.

It’s always interesting to me as a fairly well-off, at least opportunity wise, caucasian male, a lot of the issues I don’t feel directly definitely matter to me as well... issues relating to race, to gender equality, which you would hope in 2018 we would be past or that justice would prove to prevail, but apparently not. So even these issues that aren’t directly related to me, in a sense, I’ve tried to elevate on in my mind, and will hopefully get into professionally, to touch on a portion of these matters in my work. But until then, I think voting is a baseline, bare minimum level of effort. So I definitely encourage everyone to go and do so while advocating to others the importance of being heard in the civic realm.

How do you think voting could be made easier/more accessible?

Within the last five or so years, voter ID laws are becoming prohibitive of a lot of minority populations, they’re dissuaded from coming to the polls and casting votes. And that might be because of a lack of forms of required ID, or that just it’s a little daunting to have your paperwork checked at the polls. In lieu of doing away with these laws, I think those are here to stay, it’s almost an effort on college folks like us, going out into the community and creating relationships, that maybe never have existed. Canvassing efforts and things like that, just encouraging all of us to come together, which I think we saw in the summer of 2017 under more troubling times that the community can come together. I experienced that back at Virginia Tech a year after the tragedy in 2008 when I was there for my freshman year. I think that it's important to foster a local connection so that people feel and are involved as a whole, because I think as academics and students we can silo ourselves and never really engage with the community. I think that’s truly monumental in order to promote an understanding and a hope for a positive voter turnout for our region.