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Chapel Hill native combines fashion and politics to encourage a generation


People model the My Vote Matters apparel created by Chapel Hill native Monroe Clayton. Photo courtesy of Tanisha Stephens.

Looking "fly" and being politically educated is what Monroe Clayton wants people to take away from his brand, My Vote Matters Merchandising

While working for the Orange County Board of Elections in high school, the Chapel Hill native knew many people who questioned the power of voting. He believed starting a clothing brand with the motive to get people excited about voting would be a great start. 

Clayton describes the company as an inclusive brand with the mission to inspire civic engagement and young voters' awareness. 

“Our generation loves to show our creativity through the things that we do and wear, so I thought this was a great way to show my love for fashion and love for growing voter engagement with My Vote Matters apparel,” Clayton said. 

A model smiles while wearing the My Vote Matters apparel created by Chapel Hill native Monroe Clayton. Photo courtesy of Tora Luciano. 

Fashion has long been a part of activism with brands such as FUBU. It has resurfaced in part with the Black Lives Matter Movement, with people wearing apparel that has messages like “Say Her Name” or “I Can’t Breathe.” 

When Jordyn Burrell, a junior journalism student, first heard about MVM, she thought it could be a good way to reach a broader audience. 

"I think this is helping people become interested in voting," Burrell said. "Both times I've registered to vote has been because student activists has helped me, and media just takes that one step further."

While attending Carrboro High School, Clayton learned many tips about voting and education from working at the board of elections. Along with the MVM shirts for sale, Clayton provides resources for people to educate themselves about upcoming elections in their state. 

He said the Secretary of State’s office can be a reliable source to educate oneself before getting to the polls because it has voter guides and links to learn about policies candidates support. 

“The complexity of finding reliable information is one of the biggest forms of voter suppression,” Clayton said. “I think sample ballots are a very underrated tool that people should take a look at before going to vote so they aren't going in blind and they know who’s who.” 

Every state has its own voting laws and requirements, so Clayton wants to help make the process of getting informed and registered easier. 

"We not only want to make voting seem cool but also provide the information you need to be an educated voter," Clayton said. 

Chris Clark, a political science professor, is part of a Carolina Next committee. He, along with other colleagues, is looking to promote democracy so the surrounding community can learn more before voting. Carolina Next plans to launch a website in September to provide helpful resources such as registration dates and policy information. 

With COVID-19 affecting the entire nation, Clayton and Clark see it as an even greater challenge to face in November. 

“There are so many critical local elections that we don't pay attention to much, but we see the importance of them when we think about mask ordinances or the response to racial injustice,” Clayton said. "Some information is hard to find and will deter people away from voting, so at MVM we are not going to be afraid of challenges so that people have the necessary information they need to vote." 

Clark sees reasons for people to be more energized and mobilized to vote this year — but also discouraged due to the pandemic, on top of other current events making it hard to focus on politics. 

“Thinking of the emotional space people are in, I don’t think politics are at the forefront of people's minds during a pandemic like this," Clark said. "But in light of what this pandemic has revealed to be true about systemic racism, poverty and political elites and the role they play in politics today whether that be at the local or federal level, it might actually make people more aware of how important it is for their voices to be heard." 


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