Today is Election Day, and much has been written already about the anger of the American electorate. It seems like everyone is raising their voices at elected leaders and candidates or at one another. There’s a good deal of anxiety about unemployment, job instability, and what feels to many like the decline of American global economic dominance with no bright light at the end of the tunnel. This anxiety is exacerbated by the nation’s changing demographics and a scary strain of race-infused anger that once again seems to be on the rise.
Tomorrow we’ll likely wake up to reports about a pendulum shift in American political leadership, enabled by an aggressive (and it would seem, better armed) cast of characters that claim status outside of the usual party bigwigs. But don’t believe all that you hear: it’s not just the Tea Party, corporate titans, and Comedy Central wise guys who are engaging voters. There's a vast universe of hundreds of thousands of people working out of the spotlight in neighborhoods across the nation, engaging in nonpartisan get-out-the-vote drives with people of color, immigrant, youth, and low-income communities. While they don’t get much press and seem to be outside of big media’s dominant election narrative, these are the people who continue to give me hope in a time of much hopelessness in the nation.
At the Open Society Foundations, we are privileged to support groups that do the unglamorous but important work of inspiring people to participate in our democracy. Here are a few of the groups that you should know about:
The League of Young Voters Education Fund, a grassroots, multiracial national youth civic engagement network, is based in Brooklyn but has strong local support in places like Milwaukee, Portland, Maine, and Houston. The League knocks on doors and reaches out to people at school and on the sidewalk. Their mission? Talking to young people who may be out of work but aren't out of hope and are still seeking meaningful answers and real accountability on jobs, juvenile justice, and college access and affordability.
Democracia-USA, a Miami-based national civic engagement network that seeks to amplify the voices of Latino voters across the U.S., has already registered 100,000 Latinos to vote, in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Texas, and several other states. Democracia is inspiring and educating these newly registered voters to show up to vote on Election Day in order raise the profile of their economically hard hit and often unfairly bashed communities.
The National Korean American Service and Education Consortium, based in Los Angeles and conducting nonpartisan voter engagement work in high-density Asian American communities across the U.S., and the Arab American Institute Foundation, based in Washington, DC, are reaching thousands of new citizens in neighborhoods across the country in order to inspire their participation in our democracy.
The Youth Engagement Fund, an alliance of 40 national youth organizations, from the Hip Hop Caucus to United States Student Association Foundation to Rock the Vote, supported the registration of over one million new voters. Today these youth engagement groups are working to turn out three million young voters and to provide a counternarrative to the analysis that says that young people are sitting out this election.
These groups, and some 20 others that the Open Society Foundations support to increase nonpartisan voter engagement, inspire millions of people—not the wealthy or the well-connected—to participate in our democracy and make their communities stronger. Their work didn’t just start now nor will it end on Election Day. Many of the groups led monumental efforts to ensure a more accurate count in the 2010 U.S. Census, and they’ll now work to ensure that their communities will be heard in the redistricting processes that will convene in 2011.
But getting out the vote is only one piece of the puzzle. The real work in our democracy begins tomorrow when the polls are closed, the attack ads are (thankfully) done, and governance begins anew. Regardless of what happens on Election Day, millions of new people—people of color, immigrants, young people, and those struggling to put food on their tables—have been brought into our democracy.