Reaching Out to Non-Voters: These Community Activists Are Doing It

Michael Burch, Minister, Northbrae Community Church

Michael Burch, Minister, Northbrae Community Church and panelists

I don’t matter. My vote doesn’t make a difference. Elected officials don’t listen to me; they listen to the people who have money and power.  I’ve got more urgent tasks– to feed my family, find a place to live, hold down three jobs. These were some of the reasons that people give for not voting.  Michael Burch, Minister of Northbrae Community Church, moderated and, speaking in the voices of  disengaged non-voters, challenged panelists and audience members at the League’s Sept. 15 Fall Meeting to raise more questions and to offer answers.

Rev. Burch’s challenge prompted impassioned responses from the community organizer panelists who included: Kit Novotny, Youth Minister of First Congregational Church of Berkeley, and active with BOCA, Berkeley Organizing Churches for Action; Eveline Shen, Executive Director of Forward Together [formerly Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice]. The Andrew Goodman Foundation was represented by two remarkable young people, Sarah Funes, soon to be a White House Intern, and Ryan Weinberg, who, at 17, is a passionate advocate for youth voting.

moni-law-panel-fall-meeting-2016_edited-1Moni T. Law, a co-organizer of the Berkeley NAACP Youth Council, and a current employee of City of Berkeley, Rent Stabilization Board, spoke about the difficulties of engaging young black community members who see black people neglected, discriminated against and even shot by the “establishment.”  Gwen Austin, of BOSS, Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency, an agency in Berkeley, Oakland and Hayward, works with her colleagues to assist people who need to find homes and jobs, to re-enter the community after prison or other difficulties, and to recover from addictions or physical and mental illness. She emphasized that the lack of decent housing means that their clients often have to stay longer in their programs and temporary housing–because they can’t find permanent homes they can afford. Registering and voting don’t seem urgent when people are faced with such barriers, even though Gwen Austin encourages them to make their vote their voice.

Barriers to voting were mentioned again and again by the panelists. Eveline Shen of Forward Together reported on her work in an Arizona county, one of the three poorest counties in the country.  She and her colleagues helped one Navaho woman–and her fellow community members–overcome physical and psychological barriers and begin to speak at local government meetings about their enormous community needs–for local mail service, telephone service, adequate jobs and more.

Emma Ishii posted at the meeting  on our Twitter account, https://twitter.com/lwvbae. Check out our twitter account and our facebook page.

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