By Samantha Davis, Field Engagement Manager, YWCA USA
Voting has always been a memorable experience for me. When I was growing up in Pittsburgh, before I was old enough to cast my own ballot, I’d join my Nana in the voting booth. Later, when I grew up, I celebrated the announcement of the first Black president with my college roommates.
During the last primary election, I traveled back home to cast my vote. That morning, I left my childhood home with my mother and brother. We walked down the street, passing homes of childhood loves and cherished friends. I walked down the hill that I used to run down every morning to catch the 54C bus to Schenley High School. Together, we entered the Warrington Recreation Center where we’d spent countless days, celebrating Kwanzaa with our family and friends and cheering on my brother at karate tournaments. We voted. I felt full when I left – full of precious memories, but mostly full of affirmation. Though the election results were not what I’d hoped, I’ve often reflected on that moment in the months since. Today, I can still say that the resilience and beauty of my home, my family, my community, and the power that we hold is why I vote, why I fight, and why I know that we will win.
This fight is the reason I’m so excited that YWCA USA is once again participating in a national effort to engage and mobilize Americans in our political process by helping to register over a hundred thousand voters across the country today, September 26, 2017, National Voter Registration Day.
As nonprofits with strong, powerful relationships in the community, we are uniquely positioned to help the people we serve get registered. After all, we are doing a disservice to our communities if we aren’t intentionally taking steps to remove the structural barriers that are preventing people from engaging fully socially, economically and politically. One great first step to removing those barriers is to empower historically marginalized communities to vote for leaders who represent their best interests. This is why it is essential that everyone register to vote – and nonprofits can help people do just that in a number of ways:
- Coordinate a street outreach team to go into the community with voter registration forms (target heavy traffic areas such as bus stops and grocery stores);
- Leave registrations forms in your lobby or in an easily accessible location;
- If your state allows online voter registration, designate a computer in your office for clients and community members to use;
- Organize a voter registration drive;
- Have volunteers available to help people fill out the registration form (it can feel overwhelming for some);
- Promote voter registration on social media.
While registering people to vote is often the first access point to the political process, it cannot be the last. Voter registration must be followed by efforts to get people to the polls, organize people around issues they care about, and hold elected officials accountable through consistent advocacy. That also means finding opportunities for your community to learn about and engage with candidates and addressing any barriers they may face to getting to the polls come election day.
So let’s all get to work. If you’re not registered, today’s the day! Don’t miss the voter registration deadline in your jurisdiction, and celebrate National Voter Registration Day with us by getting registered. Let us know about it using the hashtag #NationalVoterRegistrationDay on social media. If you’re already registered, find a National Voter Registration Day event near you and sign up to help your friends and neighbors register. You can even host your own local event with your family, friends, and neighbors to make sure everyone you know is registered. Then when voting day rolls around, take a child with you. You might just make voting as memorable and powerful for them as my Nana did for me.