The day after Trump was elected, I found myself among other minority students as we sat in silence. We were weighed down by the fear of potential worst-case scenarios — several of which that have come true in the past two years. As a child of an immigrant, I’m well-aware of America’s history of marginalization and silencing. I’m also well-aware that if we’re to change anything in this country, young people — the most diverse generation in American history — must vote. Many of us have showcased our political power through megaphones and on the streets. Now we have an opportunity to turn that action into change at the polls.
Harrisonburg is a relatively small town, with a population of just over 54,000. A hidden truth about the city is that a surprisingly large immigrant population resides here. Immigrants make up roughly ten percent of the city’s population and 14 percent of its entrepreneurs. Many students, separated from the community, don’t know about this substantial population. We don’t have to leave campus to realize that a large part of our generation is made up of first-generation and second-generation immigrants. Young people are more diverse now than any other age group, with 44.2 percent of us being non-white. As a generation, we’re more diverse than any before, and our political system must reflect that.
Over the last two years, rallies have filled the streets of downtown Harrisonburg as students and locals protested President Trump’s anti-immigrant policies supported by retiring Representative Goodlatte. Now our district has a choice to send a Representative to Washington that will stand up to the President’s dangerous attacks on immigrants.
Republican Ben Cline and Democrat Jennifer Lewis — running for Virginia’s sixth congressional district — have two starkly different views. Cline supports pulling out funding from sanctuary cities, building a senseless and costly border wall and ramping up deportation forces that target innocent people. Lewis supports the expansion of the DACA program, protecting those under Temporary Protected Status (TPS), and keeping migrant families together.
During my time in college, I saw a number of elections where classmates didn’t vote. The majority of college students at JMU are within the ages of 18 and 35, the largest bloc of eligible voters in America. When I asked why they weren’t voting, people told me that they simply didn’t find it important enough, or that their votes wouldn’t count.
Elections are dominated by older, less diverse voters, but the decisions of the soon-to-be elected representatives will affect us for the rest of our lives. Many of us feel like our voices aren’t being heard, but recent results in Virginia prove otherwise. Last year, young voters turned out in historic numbers for the gubernatorial election. Young voters overwhelmingly supported the Democrat, Ralph Northam. After winning his election, he delivered on a campaign promise by expanding Medicaid. Now 400,000 Virginians have healthcare access that they didn’t have before.
We live under a presidential administration that routinely ignores the voices of young people and immigrants. The upcoming election on Nov. 6 brings the opportunity to either elect someone who is in tune with our needs, or someone out of step with the issues that matter most to us.
This is an opportunity for our generation to have our voices heard on immigration, gun control, healthcare, LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights and so much more. As voters, we have the ability to change the direction that our country is headed in. If we show up in numbers, we can change course and win.
Aloha Backenstose is a JMU graduate. Contact Aloha at firstname.lastname@example.org.