By Laneisha Butler
Voters of color matter and make the difference, especially in close races, as election results in Alabama reminded us this week. In a state plagued with voter suppression, Black voters overcame various disenfranchising barriers and showed up in larger numbers for that special election than even typically seen in a midterm election. Similarly, here in Oakland we want to increase civic engagement among our young people of color. We just wrapped up our fall 2017 voter registration campaign last month, and it’s obvious that our work with young people of color must continue in 2018 as elections approach.
It was our first time running a voter registration campaign in partnership with YVote, a network of organizations reaching out to young people of color to spark change through electoral organizing, locally and statewide. I registered 353 youth of color between the ages of 16-24 to vote, contributing to the network’s statewide total of 11,820 young voters registered during this campaign. As part of my outreach effort, I presented and tabled at several of Oakland’s high schools, youth programs, Laney Community College, and youth-focused events. Through my presentations, I taught youth facts about our ancestors being systemically locked out of voting, victories for which our people fought, and today’s voter registration eligibility. But what seemed to have the deepest impact was having them take a pre-Civil Rights era literacy test which opened their eyes to what burdened many of our ancestors and blocked them from partaking in the right to vote. This tool agitated many youth of color to register to vote, commit to take action within our community, turn out to polls in the 2018 elections, and vote in future elections.
This year’s voter registration campaign provided me with important lessons on how best to connect with youth in Oakland, and a chance to begin building relationships with our community’s teachers and youth leaders. It touched me to hear from so many high school students about how much my presentations impacted them and their views about participating in voting. I look forward to more interactions like these with students next year as we expand our youth voter education program. I am excited to be a part of this statewide movement that builds up young leaders like myself so that we can educate and organize our peers. After all, we youth of color will soon be California’s largest demographic, which means flexing our power will impact how our state is ran and how our communities are served. With our vote, we can win local and statewide elections to create the change we need.
Laneisha Butler is the Youth Organizer at Oakland Rising. This post was originally published by Oakland Rising here.