Voting Rights Workshop

Democracy doesn’t discriminate

Photo of Ali Cohen
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Twitter: @alicohenn Instagram: @alilluminati Snapchat: @ali_cohen

Date Started

August 30th, 2017

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Idea (hoping to get started in the future)

1. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project? NOTE: All applications must include a 1 minute video that answers: “I am stepping up to make change because..."

Democracy dies in darkness and about two years ago my community experienced a day that cast a long shadow over our democracy. On March 26th, 2016, the Arizona primary, my community saw rampant voter discrimination that specifically targeted communities of color and low-income neighborhoods. A lack of voting station meant that some voters waited upwards of four hours in the Arizona sun, hoping to access their civil right. Many simply weren’t able vote. This day was especially important to my family, because it was the first time my newly minted adult sister could vote in a federal election. She was one of the few who was able to vote, but many in my community weren’t afforded the same opportunity. Through the creation of a voting rights workshop, I hope to curb voter discrimination and empower people to be civically engaged. I don’t want what happened in my community to ever happen again

2. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Voting is perhaps the greatest tool to make change, yet many don’t recognize its importance. The true problem in my community is double-pronged. First, we have many apathetic voters, and second, we have voters unaware of systems, such as early voting, that make their lives easier. Many apathetic voters aren’t registered to vote. Additionally, many don’t know about the processes involved in voting. I hope to change that through education.

3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

The solution to my problem involves developing a voting rights workshop that can be introduced in historically discriminated against communities. The actual curriculum would focus on two core concepts: the importance of voting and active citizenship. To stress the importance of voting, we would introduce historical examples and experiential learning simulations. Furthermore, we would stress the importance of civic engagement in all levels of government including often overlooked local elections. The second core concept would be active citizenship. We would explain how to register to vote, voting rights, and tips to make the voter’s life easy (early voting lists, early ballot drop-off, free public transportation on election day, etc.) Finally, we would emphasize other ways to remain an informed and participatory voter. We would offer guidelines to do research on candidates, ways to register friends and neighbors, and even a starter kit on how to run for office. This workshop could be introduced into community centers, schools, churches, etc. With funding we could provide incentives, such as a free meal for individuals able to attend. Finally, we would register everyone who attends.

4. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of what happens when a person or group gets involved with your project.

It’s been a long day at work for our workshop participant and she is tired and even a little suspect of this event. Her opinion quickly changes. The curriculum begins with an explanation of the long and storied fight for voting rights. Her outlook on voting changes when she learns of the thousands of men, women, and children who fought for her rights. She then learns about the early voting list, which means she’ll never have to skip work or wait in long lines to vote. Suddenly, it doesn’t seem like a hassle anymore. She is now eager to fill out the voter registration form in front of her.

5. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

For many, civics education ends the second they leave their 12th grade government class. For some, it ends much before that. There is an overwhelming dearth of civics education for those over 18. Even curriculum in high schools has major lapses in practical skills. This workshop is different because it teaches practical knowledge to apply the day of the election. Furthermore, it provides an opportunity for those without knowledge of their rights to gain that knowledge. The grassroots focused approach, working within communities and expanding, distinguishes this workshop from others

6. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

While we are just in the idea stage, we could see this workshop having a huge impact on our communities. By focusing our work in civically unrepresented communities, we hope to create a wave of civic engagement from the ground up. We specifically hope to target young people and communities of color. Because of the workshop’s versatility, we can expand beyond the city limits of Tempe and Phoenix. More than anything else, we hope to change the narrative of apathy in these communities. By empowering one person to use their civic power, we hope to start a cycle of inspiration that makes voting a habit. 2018 is the perfect year to roll this workshop out; the midterm is the prime time to inform people of the importance of voting. With funding and guidance, we hope to roll out a workshop per month leading up to the 2018 midterms.

7. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

While our idea is certainly well thought out, we have quite a bit of work to do before we roll out our first workshop. We plan on finalizing the curriculum this summer. Then we hope to brand and market the workshop to partner with other organizations. Coming up this June one of our team members will be attending the Herlead Fellowship summit in New York City where she will receive mentorship on expansion for our project. After we have developed the curriculum and began to brand our organization we will then begin working with schools, religious institutions, YMCAs, and other community centers to implement these workshops. Utilizing these partnerships, we hope to attract high attendance leading up to the midterms

8. Future Support: What are the resources needed to make your vision a reality?

Our biggest resources needed are mentorship and funding. Specifically, branding and marketing mentorship is needed to professionalize our workshops and develop credibility with community partners. Additionally, we need funding to pay for incentivizes such as free meals, and spaces to host the workshops (if we are unable to find donated space.) Finally, to grow our workshops we would like to start a website to make our resources accessible to those in other states and regions. If our organization grows large enough, we hope to register as a 50c31 Non-profit which would require legal guidance.

9. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Friend support
  • Family support

10. Ripple Effect: Please share some ideas of how you could partner with other changemakers or involve other young people as leaders in making a difference.

This idea began a long time ago through an organization called Citizen University. Based in Seattle, this non-profit is focused on spreading civic power. They have a program called the Citizen University Youth Collaboratory which brings together 25 young civic leaders from across the country and tasks them with developing a civics education curriculum. Under the guidance of Citizen University, one of our team members developed a podcast similar to the curriculum of our workshop. What she learned from the podcast is that young people are the avenues to make change, especially when they’re engaged and excited. This workshop is focused on empowering underrepresented groups, which includes young people. Those just out of high school, aged 18-23, have the lowest voter turnout of any age group. Targeting this workshop at young people will create an excited generation. Furthermore, by utilizing a network of young people to lead and advertise these workshops we can create a true by youth for youth movement. We hope to use social media, our network of high-school and college aged young people, and student organizations to spread the word about these workshops.

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Photo of Armani Simmons

Voting is essential and should be talked about a lot more in underrepresented communities.

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