On Wednesday, I had the pleasure of being invited to lead a workshop on political participation and voting by Asian Neighborhood Design, a fantastic organization that heads an amazing green construction jobs training program for low-income residents of the Bay Area. While I’ve done workshops covering this topic before, the audience this time was different. The participants of this program weren’t the motivated youth that I’ve worked with in the past, but largely low-income people of color, some of whom are ex-felons. These are, by all means, people that should be completely justified in being disillusioned with a political system that, time and again, fails to meet their needs. But these participants proved to have an amazing level of resilience. Their involvement in the training program shows their resolve and desire to improve their own lives.
The discussion started just as I had imagined; these people were incredibly cynical about the political process. “Cheaters,” “liars,” and “corrupt” were just some of the more mild terms thrown out in my opening questions. But instead of trying to convince them on the virtues of voting and exercising their civic duty, I met their concerns head on. When I explain why people should be politically engaged, I tell them “if you’re not at the table, then you’re on the menu.” By explaining that voting and political engagement is more than just picking politicians, but rather making tangible decisions on policies, especially at the local level, that have a direct impact on their day-to-day lives and in their communities, they began to see the benefits of voting.
After I told them how they could register to vote, we got into a lively discussion on some of the more pertinent issues coming up in the November election. I was able to dispel some popular misconceptions about voter registration and assure them that almost everyone there was eligible to vote. By the end of the workshop, everyone was eager to fill out a voter registration form. I can safely say that this was the best, most rewarding experience I’ve ever had leading a workshop. It was very fulfilling spreading the word on the value of civic engagement, which is what Evolve continues to do by getting people involved in common-sense policy solutions.