The work that we do is made most meaningful when we have an emotional connection to it. That was especially true with Oakland Rising’s most recent campaign that focused on voter registration. At Oakland Rising, our work has focused on talking to occasional voters and turning them into people who reliably vote every election cycle. As a part of the Million Voters Project, we took on the role of adding to the electorate by registering new voters.
“If our vote didn’t matter, why would there be so much effort to keep us from casting it?” This is the question that we asked our team of 12 canvassers daily before sending them out in East and West Oakland to talk with people at grocery stores, community centers, parks, BART stations, and other locations about the importance of voting not only in 2016, but in each and every election. On our first day of training, we asked the team “tell us about the history of voting in your family.” We heard stories of literacy tests, poll taxes and misinformation put out by those who oppose progress in our communities. As our team reflected on the hard fights of our predecessors who gave us access to democracy, they recognized that the battle continues through the ongoing fights against Voter ID laws and felon disenfranchisement. It was beautiful to see our team recognize their role in the movement and their pride in their work educating and motivating their neighbors to vote.
This is not easy work, but it is important and necessary. When our team goes out, it’s not simply to register people to vote; it is to engage them in conversation about why their vote is important. It is their job to connect displacement, wages and public safety to participating in the electoral process. With 26 state and local measures on the 2016 ballot, they carried the importance of that with them every day. They also carried the story of their co-worker’s mother who was born in the South, pre-Civil Rights who was harassed and verbally assaulted when she voted for the first time. And the story of their former team member, who is now a reentry coach, as we registered him because he just finished parole.
Our work in voter registration is ongoing. Though our official program ended on August 30th, we are still registering voters at events, colleges and high schools. Our goal is to register 1,516 voters before the deadline on October 24th, and currently stand at 1,374 and counting. To get involved in registering new voters and in helping to turn them out this election cycle, you can volunteer with us. We know that to win bigger victories for our communities, we have to get the word out. Click here to get involved.
– Tracey Corder and Jon Bean