Although Mitchell Motlagh ’20 doesn’t agree with every proposal pitched by former presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, he respects her for expressing topics in a clear, intelligent manner and offering solutions to problems.
“Between her ability to articulate thoughtful policy changes and my desire to learn more about rural communities and how they have been affected by contemporary policy changes, I decided that I had to volunteer for Warren in a rural area,” Motlagh said.
Motlagh, a College of Social Studies major, was one of 16 Wesleyan students who devoted their winter break to support voter registration, participate in political campaigns, and work with advocacy groups as part of the Wesleyan Engage 2020 (E2020) initiative. E2020 is a comprehensive university effort to support student learning via civic engagement and liberal arts education.
Motlagh spent his time in the small, northern town of Berlin, N.H., where he spoke with more than 500 voters via phone banking, canvassing, and interacting via meetings held in the office or community gatherings.
“Not every interaction was pleasant, but all of them helped provide color into the community that I was living in,” he said.
“Most people are just trying to live their lives without thinking about who the president is and how policy affects them. These citizens want to earn an honest living, but prevailing economic trends have left two of the three major paper mills shut down. They want affordable healthcare, good education, and to end the opioid epidemic that is ravaging their community. They want the social security that they paid into their entire life to still be there when they retire.”
Learning more about rural voters and the problems they face helped guide Motlagh’s senior essay research and his discussions with peers regarding these problems.
“I was also able to see how a campaign is run from the ground level. This was an invaluable experience for me and I am incredibly grateful that I was able to have this opportunity,” he said.
Students wishing to volunteer in the public sphere over academic breaks may apply to the E2020 Fund for support for associated transportation and living expenses. Students awarded support subsequently enroll in CSPL 494, a quarter-credit course that involves orientation, structured reflection, and a final paper.
Wesleyan President Michael Roth ’78 wrote about the importance of civic engagement and E2020 in this op-ed, published March 30 in Inside Higher Ed.