Grassroots Organizers Mobilize Battleground State Voters Ahead of November Election

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Grassroots Organizers Mobilize Battleground State Voters Ahead of November Election

Michelle D. Anderson

The fundraising efforts by Movement 2016 come amid Republican claims of nonexistent widespread voter fraud and efforts to intimidate voters in key states, particularly those with a history of voters being disenfranchised.

From reaching out to Black Lives Matter protesters to urging college students to march to their local polling sites, organizers in battleground states are working to mobilize voters for November’s presidential election and beyond.

In a virtual event held three weeks before the November 8 election, activists with Movement 2016, a newly formed nonprofit organization that provides tools and funds to help grassroots groups nationwide, shared how they were working to ensure people were registered and ready to vote.

The activists included Van Jones, President Obama’s former special advisor for green jobs and the founder and president of Rebuild the Dream, and local organizers who spoke about efforts in their own communities.

As of Thursday, Movement 2016 had raised more than $2.1 million of its $2.5 million goal to help groups in key states.

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Pushing young adults in particular to participate in the upcoming election continues to be a critical issue as U.S. Census Bureau data shows low voter turnout among young people. In 2014, 17.1 percent of people 18-to-24 years old voted, while 59.4 percent of those 65 and older cast a vote, according to the Census’ Population Survey.

Movement 2016 spokesperson Sara DuBois said at Monday’s event that the organization had moved more than $175,000 to seven groups in North Carolina, including Southern Vision Alliance, which is working with Movement 2016 to build its electoral work and mobilize young voters this election cycle.

Bryan Perlmutter, founder and director of Ignite NC, a Southern Vision Alliance member group, said Movement 2016 has been a vital part of the organization’s fundraising efforts as his group continues movement building.

“Young people in North Carolina want a drastically different future and cannot longer accept the status quo of North Carolina,” Perlmutter said in an interview with Rewire. “One election does not change the state of the status quo. A movement does it.”

Perlmutter called his state the “epicenter of movement building,” citing the passage of HB 2—which discriminates against the state’s LGBTQ residents—and the police killing of Keith Lamont Scott and subsequent uprisings in Charlotte.

Ignite NC has 50 young organizers on 17 campuses across the state who are working to engage residents by passing out stickers and shirts and hosting campus discussions, Perlmutter said.

The group has promoted early voting, North Carolina’s same-day registration law, and “marches to the polls.”

Perlmutter, who worked to fight budget cuts and tuition hikes while a student activist at North Carolina State University, said upcoming events include a block party and march to the poll at the historically Black college, Johnson C. Smith University.

In Arizona, meanwhile, Movement 2016 has moved more than $25,000 to support the work of Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA) and La Machine. Both groups have focused on fighting anti-immigration policies and “translating that into traction in this year’s electoral campaign,” DuBois said.

She added that Arizona illustrated why Movement 2016 gave itself its name, because activists in the southwestern state have illustrated “the powerful relationship between disruptive social movements and electoral politics.”

“We can’t think of a better example of the impact of local elections and the connection between vote work and movement building than the infamous Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and the organizing that flourished in the wake of SB 1070. It has been really inspiring to watch the groups in Arizona come together,” DuBois said.

Arpaio was a main proponent of SB 1070, which was passed in 2010 and required police officers to determine the immigration status of residents who they suspected were undocumented. In September, state officials decided to end the immigration verification requirement, but allow police to carry out other provisions of the law.

Carlos Garcia, who grew up undocumented and represented the Phoenix-based Puente Human Rights Movement, noted at Monday’s virtual event the shift in the state, pointing to Arizona’s largest and historically conservative newspaper, the Arizona Republic. The paper recently endorsed Hillary Clinton, the first Democratic presidential candidate it has supported in its history.

In Missouri, a state that has received about $20,000 from Movement 2016, organizers with the St. Louis-based Organization for Black Struggle are focused on the outcome of a discriminatory voter ID law whose fate will be decided by citizens. The measure, which would require people to present identification before voting, will be on the ballot November 8.

Jamala Rogers, an organizer with the Organization for Black Struggle, told Rewire that the group will be engaged in phone banking and educating citizens about the voter ID law as the November 8 election nears.

The Organization for Black Struggle has used opportunities such as the aftermath of Mike Brown’s murder in Ferguson to engage residents on social issues, she said. Rogers said that their efforts have focused on how to organize people in a more strategic way that will help disenfranchised people in the long run.

Rogers noted that many people they have organized are less interested in the upcoming elections compared to other issues.

“People are a little bit leery of elections …. Every four years their material conditions haven’t changed,” Rogers said. “They’re tired of the Democrats and they’re tired of the Republicans.”

Movement 2016 has directed more than $370,000 to Florida, which it called the “most important state in the country.” Funds have gone to several groups that have formed a collaborative called the Florida Alignment Table, which has communicated with more than 550,000 voters and has seeded the Florida Student Power Network to address a gap in campus organizing.

The fundraising efforts by Movement 2016 come amid Republican claims of nonexistent widespread voter fraud and efforts to intimidate voters in key states, particularly those with a history of voters being disenfranchised.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R), Trump’s vice presidential running mate, along with his state’s police agency, last week denied claims they were engaged in voter suppression after state police raided a registration drive organized by Patriot Majority USA, the Indianapolis Star reported.

Patriot Majority USA President Craig Varoga in a statement accused Pence of suppressing the Black vote and violating the constitutional rights of tens of thousands of Indiana residents.

Varoga said the effort wasted “precious crime-fighting resources on partisan witch hunts that further harm relations between police officers and minority communities.”