While most of our work here tracks threats to the vote this election season, we also want to highlight the work that community groups are doing to increase voter participation. California recently passed a same-day voter-registration law; if signed by Governor Jerry Brown, it will be one of only nine states that makes voting easier.
Meanwhile, one organization in South LA is looking for ways to get people of color to not only register, but to become habitual voters that make decisions beyond the big ticket. People in the area—which is 40 percent black and 60 percent Latino—are disproportionately impacted by the Golden State’s “three strikes law” and the death penalty. This November, they could help reform those laws by voting on ballot propositions.
Meet Maegan E. Ortiz. She publishes VivirLatino.com, and attended an event this weekend held by a local group to empower local residents to recognize the strength of their vote.
South LA Moves to Make the Occasional Regular
A few hundred people gathered at Martin Luther King Jr. Park in South Los Angeles on Saturday, for a late summer music festival put together by the Community Coalition. The local nonprofit social justice organization, in partnership with SEIU United Long-Term Care Workers, SEIU Local 99 and others, created an event appealing to multiple generations in order to engage the occasional voter.
Marqueece Harris-Dawson, president and CEO of Community Coalition, defined the occasional voter as someone who is young and generally votes in the big election, like the 2008 presidential election, because of its historic nature. Harris-Dawson said the the South LA Summer Power Festival was “a first, feel good step” and the organization’s real work comes afterwards, in terms of seeing how many of those occasional voters go to the polls come November.
The South LA Summer Power Festival at King Park used a multi-generational and multi-ethnic approach to engaging the community. While adults participated in workshops on topics ranging from deferred action to earthquake preparedness, children played sports, got balloon animals or beaded necklaces. Health services included free HIV tests—and the soundstage featured Jasiri X, who rapped to an engaged audience about justice for Trayvon Martin. Free food filled bellies, while booths with information about all of the California ballot initiatives filled minds.
A host of key state propositions could have a significant impact on the lives of working families and communities like South Los Angeles. Proposition 36 would reform the “three strikes” law, reserving life sentences for only when the third felony conviction is serious or violent. Proposition 34, meanwhile, would end California’s death penalty and replace it with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. In a state where three of every four men in prison are non-white and 36 percent of inmates on death row are black, these propositions could change the lives of South LA residents—where the local population is 40 percent black and 60 percent Latino.
Yet more than four in ten voters in California are new or occasional voters, and most of them are Latino or African-American. Not only do these occasional voters generally visit the polls only during major elections but they often do not complete the entire ballot. According to Harris-Dawson, a lack of accessible information about state propositions means that the occasional voter will only vote for the big ticket, like the presidential candidate, while leaving the rest of the ballot blank.
Back at King Park, a multiracial group danced to cumbia music. The Turn Up Your Power tent housed discussions over California Proposition 38, which would increase personal income tax rates for most Californians on a sliding scale, with higher income earners paying more in order to fund school districts and early educational programs. Community Coalition’s Jung Hee Choi explained that all the issues come down to fiscal reform—making sure that South LA residents get their fair share. Marqueece Harris-Dawson wanted people to come for fun and stay for the political education. Participants seemed to be coming for both.
—Maegan E. Ortiz