AJS and Affiliates Finish Off a Strong Year of Civic Engagement Work

2012 proved to be an exciting and successful year of civic engagement for AJS affiliates all across the country. Oregon Action, Center for Intercultural Organizing, Make the Road New York, PLANevada, Montana Organizing Project, Idaho Community Action Network, Maine People’s Alliance, Colorado Progressive Coalition, and Washington Community Action Network all devoted considerable staff and resources to civic engagement in an election year when so much was at stake for the communities we advocate for. In addition, AJS, partnering with The Pushback Network, secured $210,000 in civic engagement work funding that was then re-granted back to affiliates to help support this critical work.

AJS affiliates exceeded their collective goal of 23,845 by registering 35,592 voters. Goals set in the early months of 2012 for registering new voters were exceeded in almost every instance, and voter education and get-out-the-vote efforts in October and November successfully engaged over 271,934 voters to exercise their right and cast their votes, culminating in high voter turnout on Election Day for all the states participating in civic engagement work.

In doing this important work, AJS and our affiliates have made substantial contributions to the empowerment of historically disenfranchised groups through their civic engagement. In this election year, and with so much hanging in the balance, we have built power in the streets, in the workplaces, and in the community. Perhaps even more importantly, this civic engagement work has built the capacity, unity and power of our organizations and the communities they serve—communities anchored in people of color and poor and working class communities who share a valuable political analysis: that the expansion of the U.S. electorate is a critical task for developing democracy and fighting for social justice.

As a result of this work, AJS affiliates have now had thousands of one-on-one conversations in 2012, enabling them to: identify issues most relevant to the communities they were engaging; provide resources and support for those communities through education; develop and strengthen community members to take on leadership roles; and encourage people to become civically active through voter registration. A critical end result of this work is that we have built up and empowered those communities who find themselves most marginalized, to strengthen their voices, and to mobilize them in a way that helps them create a more just society.

One important and unique element that cannot be overstated: organizing in immigrant and communities of color by immigrants and people of color had a profound impact on the high quantity *and* quality of this work. Affiliate organizers recruited and trained community members on all aspects of civic engagement: voter rights, the art of registering voters, developing and teaching key messaging points about why voting in this election year was so critical. Once trained, volunteers and staff had critical conversations with family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and community members–conversations that resonated, connected, and empowered them to register and, ultimately, to cast their votes on Election Day. Perhaps even more importantly, recruiting, training and empowering immigrants and people of color to do this work in their own communities will pay off exponentially in building the capacity of our affiliates and the political power of the people they advocate for.

As an example, here’s a great story from our affiliate Center For Intercultural Organizing (CIO):

CIO kicked off their voter registration and engagement effort training community training members. These immigrant community leaders then worked in the community to register over 1,647 new Americans .  They held a series of multi-lingual “ballot parties” in October that brought together a diverse coalition of organizations in the Greater Portland area. At these parties, volunteers called through the lists of newly registered voters to encourage them to vote and to help them negotiate the complicated Oregon ballot. Somali youth who had been trained to register voters were speaking to newly registered Somali immigrants on the phone and answering questions about the ballot. Russian immigrants were getting the same information on the phone by Russian-speaking volunteers who had been out registering voters in previous months.

This multi-lingual community approach to education and mobilization is necessary to move these new voters. Had these voters been called by national or statewide campaigns who did not speak their native language, there is every reason to believe that they would not have received the information, help, and encouragement they needed to fill out those ballots and their votes would not have been cast.

Congratulations to all our affiliates for a truly successful year of civic engagement!

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