Prior to 2016, I wasn’t a politically active person. The system is complicated, and it’s too easy to get confused and overwhelmed by the whole thing. And while I always voted in the big elections, I didn’t fully understand how everything worked.
Who is a “commissioner” and what do they do? Why does voting for a judge position matter? When the internet tells me to “Call your f-ing reps!” about an issue – who do they mean and what do I say?
With the results of the 2016 election, I had the sobering realization that I definitely didn’t do everything in my power to impact the system. After the rage, anger, and despair washed away, it’s safe to say a lot of folks probably felt the same. I vowed to do more for 2020 – knock on doors, go to rallies, volunteer to really get the vote out! But as the years passed, the activism turned to “share stuff on Instagram”-ism, and any energy from my 2016 rage was depleted by the pandemic, social distancing, and general chaos 2020 brought with it. My energy turned to finding and supporting Black-owned businesses, reflecting on and dismantling white supremacy, and caring a little too much about murder hornets.
But then it got personal. In the latest primary, I requested my absentee ballot and like many Georgians, it didn’t show up. I had to head to go vote in person at my local early voting location. I went on the last day of early voting, arriving at 7:52 am and I didn’t leave until 12:30 pm. Over four hours to cast a vote in a primary election. I was just robbed of the one thing I hold most dear: my time.
I shared my experience on the interwebs and a friend of mine who happens to be a State House Representative, reached out to see if I’d retell my story to an organization that was filing a lawsuit against the state of Georgia concerning voter suppression. You bet your ass I would love to sue the state! How exciting! Even in non-pandemic times, this was a reason to get out of bed (also, I had just killed my second attempt at a sourdough starter, this was giving me new life).
I ended up giving declarations (legal statements) to two organizations, including Stacey Abram’s Fair Fight Action. Now I get to help TWO lawsuits – just by telling my story! It was invigorating to get to feel like I was doing something to help change the system, even in a small way, especially during a pandemic where it was so easy to feel so helpless.
This energy snowballed and I applied to become a poll worker. Another small way to feel a part of this big, complicated process – and bonus: I can help keep my community seniors protected from COVID. That’s a twofer on the warm, fuzzy scale.
And then I heard about becoming a poll watcher, similar to a poll worker, you spend time at the polls to report any suspicious behavior (like voter intimidation, or document troubles with long lines, malfunctioning machines, etc.) and you get to sit in as they check paper ballots for signature matches. It’s like a mama bear for all the votes – make sure everyone gets a say, even in the state of Georgia that illegally purged hundreds of thousands of voter registrations. Great! Signed up for that, too.
All that felt good but passive. How could I make a difference today? I posed the question on Instagram and had a flood of responses.
- Send cards with the Postcards to Voters program who encourage voting in swing states!
- Send notes through the Georgia postcard program to encourage people on the fence to head to the polls!
- Text bank with any number of organizations!
- Phone back with a long list of organizations! (For now this is a pass. Phone calls are terrifying.)
- Donate, donate, donate!
To round it out, I don’t know what email list Fair Fight put me on, but at some point, I received an email to sign up for declarations taking training meaning I could be the one who calls voters who have had issues and make them feel heard, take their stories, and help direct Fair Fight’s legal efforts. Fantastic! To date, I’ve taken statements from three people who experienced a wide range of troubles trying to cast their vote. Like most millennials, I’m not a fan of talking on the phone to strangers, but this common bond of “it’s us vs. the system” has created a wonderful community of people coming together.
I’m now fully down the rabbit hole of democracy, and you can be too. You might find yourself browsing Etsy for hours for the perfect Get Out the Vote postcards, or getting a bit too excited when your stamps arrive, knowing you did a little to help save the Post Office.
One of the things I’ve learned in my time at Media Cause is if there’s an issue you’re passionate about, there’s likely an organization you can give your time and talents to help. Whether it’s fighting for democracy, the forest fires out West or supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, you can do small things that add up over time, and you won’t be alone. I didn’t start 2020 off thinking I’d be helping two lawsuits against my state, taking legal statements from strangers, and working at the polls in November, but here we are. Join me.