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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

As Carls we’re all Minnesotans

< in Northfield for a year and a half and I still don’t truly understand this place.

Maybe that’s not so hard to believe. I’ve perceived a general trend on campus to feel ambivalence toward or alienation from the city to which Carleton belongs.

The line of reasoning usually goes something like this:

“I don’t get into town that much. There’s nothing to do there, and besides, I don’t have the time. Everything I’d ever need to do is on campus anyway.”

On some level, these statements are perhaps true. Carleton is a residential college, after all; many of us came here precisely for that reason, or at least partly for it. If we wanted to engage with the city in which we studied and lived, there are far more engaging options out there.

Northfield is not New York; Carleton is not an enormous public university. This is a rural city, a small-town environment, and we must consider it as such.

But Northfield, despite Carls’ tendencies to withdraw from it, take it for granted, or forget it entirely, is tremendously important for us to attempt to understand.

I have said before that coming to rural Minnesota has been immensely educational for me. The racial and class disparities found across the country are impossible to ignore when one lives in a small college town in the upper Midwest.

Of course, these tensions are everywhere, but Northfield and Carleton make them all the more visible. It seems impossible for me to extricate one from the other—Carleton is a product of Northfield, and Northfield is an extension of Carleton.

We have an obligation, then, to understand our town as the source of our college. Even more, we are residents of Northfield, and many of us can vote here and pay taxes here. Those duties impose their own set of obligations on us.

Given the ability to vote, I believe we all have a moral and civic duty to act on that vote. I’m from San Jose, California, a city of one million where people tend to agree by large margins on everything. This is a strength and a weakness.

Northfield lacks that luxury. Minnesota’s second Congressional district is one of the swingiest in the country. The city itself is, as I have heard it described, a blue dot in a red county in a purple state. It is a town of twenty thousand, a mere fiftieth of San Jose.

This simple fact makes it impossible for me to vote in good conscience in California when I could vote in Minnesota instead. My vote is worth far more here.

Knowing that my vote may actually matter in Northfield politics imposes on me the incumbency of understanding what, exactly, I am voting for.

The names on ballots are not familiar to me. Local issues have stories and conflicts behind them that I was not raised to be cognizant of. So I do research before every election. It may not be the most enjoyable activity in the world, but I consider it necessary.

The knowledge that I could be the deciding vote (quite literally, as Northfield legislator David Bly once lost an election by 37 votes) in a race or on a measure is a powerful feeling indeed. Twenty thousand people could see their lives change because of me.

This means it’s important to know what I’m doing. Most other Carls, whether they know it or not, are likely in a similar position. Few places have a political system as in flux as southern Minnesota’s.

It makes sense, then, to vote and participate in Northfield politics as much as we can. This is our town, too, even if it’s easy to forget that. To put it another way: if we were not here, the character of Northfield would be radically altered.

It doesn’t take that much work to get involved, all things considered. The Northfield Initiative, events the CCCE promotes, local town halls, and organizing meetings all occur quite often.

Local politics are often messy, but they can have a greater impact than we in our bubble might ever know. I highly encourage you to give them a second glance.

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