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Trending / August 2020

Heck Yes, Voting Matters

HOW TO IGNITE THE VOTE

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Thanks to the long, hard work of American women of all races, the 19th Amendment was passed on August 26, 1920, granting suffrage to women — but not all women. It wasn’t until 1965 that the Voting Rights Act removed barriers for women of color.

In 2020, voting can still be challenging, and women are still vastly underrepresented politically. IGNITE, a national nonpartisan organization empowering young women to become civic leaders, wants to change this. We jumped on a call with Sara Guillermo, IGNITE’s Executive Director — a Filipina immigrant, proud American, breast cancer survivor and birthday celebrant (she turns 36 on August 19). Sara offered ways for women to engage politically and introduced us to Sophia, the IGNITE voting bot.

Sara of Ignite

What drew you to IGNITE?

I started running for office in the first grade! My mom would probably tell you that I was born to do this work. I earned the community service award at my high school because I had done something crazy like over 10,000 hours of service. It was super-clear to me at a young age that there weren’t enough girls and young women sitting around the table making decisions about the bake sale or where graduation was going to be. All of these decisions were being made for us. 

The deep piece for me is how policies get created. Whether it’s in your fifth grade classroom or in the U.S. government, it depends on who’s there to actually help craft that policy and see it come to life. I met IGNITE’s president and founder, Anne Moses, in 2009. She had just started this organization and I had the opportunity to join her.

What was the inspiration behind IGNITE?

We were trying to figure out: How do we get more women into office? The answer was: We need to get to them younger, as they’re building their identities. I started teaching our curriculum at the high school level and I came onboard full-time in 2015.

IGNITE is nonpartisan. Why?

You need folks on both sides of the aisle in order to have gender parity in politics. Our curriculum is written in a way that everybody can participate. That said, we’ve recently had a number of earthquake moments in the United States. With the Black Lives Matter movement and George Floyd’s death as our most recent awakening, young people are trending much more progressive. And because we serve over 70% young women of color, race and party politics do coincide.

walking group shot

What struggles have you come up against?

There is so much demand and not enough hours in the day to meet it. Especially since 2016. I joke that I felt like my phone number was written on college girls’ bathrooms across the country. Because I got random phone calls from Iowa and Ohio, and they’re whispering: “How do we do this?”

Why is it important for young women to engage politically?

There are over half a million seats in government, from the Mosquito Abatement Board to the presidency. But most folks focus on the top tier and don’t even know when positions are open in their community. Currently, for all 522,000 seats across this country, a little under a quarter of them are held by women. Look at the policies that exist: Do they really function for the women that live within that city? And we all know the answer to that now. But such policies can be created when women are sitting at the table.

What’s your personal experience in policy making?

I am a breast cancer survivor. I was diagnosed at the age of 32. The mayor appointed me to sit on a healthcare commission in my community. I am the youngest by 20 years at least, I’m the only young woman of color and — ding, ding, ding! — the only patient. So it’s really thinking about who’s serving at the table, why they’re serving and what they can do to elevate or expand. At UC Santa Cruz, one of the first things I heard from Angela Davis, who was one of my professors, was: The personal is political and the political is personal. That really resonated with me.

What was it like having Angela Davis as a professor?

It was magical. We had to review and understand every social movement in our lifetimes. I was 18 years old and she taught me what “prison to pipeline” meant. There are some core pieces you write down in your notebook and can’t ever forget. And she brought in a ton of speakers who really helped shine light on what the movement is. One night, we got to meet many of the Black Panthers. 

Voting can be confusing. Is there a way to make it easier?

Sophia, the IGNITE voting bot, is the best place to start. Things get crazy in people’s worlds. If you’re juggling a class schedule and babysitting and a job and an internship and sleeping and eating, it becomes really challenging for young people. That’s where Sophia comes in.

women with power

Sophia is awesome. Can you tell us how she works?

She is super user-friendly. She’s basically the Q&A box that pops up when you go to our website. She’ll ask you a series of questions. First, to understand if you’re registered to vote or not. Next, to best understand where you’ll be in November, because — particularly for college women right now — you may have no idea. Next, what type of ballot to obtain, since not every state has Vote By Mail and not every state has early voting. Finally, if you do need to register, she’ll take you to the voter registration page so that you can fill it out.

And then — this is super cool — she gives you your state plan. The state plan has the core dates that you need to be aware of in terms of completing that voter registration. When do you need to get your ballot in? When do the polls open? Can you vote early? She tells you the states in which this is available. 

Sophia texts you periodically with reminders between now and the election. She’ll even ask you after November 3rd: “Didja vote?” She’ll keep you engaged throughout the entire process and give you all the information that you need.

What about help understanding ballots?

We have a campus engagement toolkit. Our young women host ballot parties. I do that with my family, too. We don’t understand, maybe, 90 pages on the ballot, but we sit around and discuss it and do the research around it. There are many ballot support resources as you get closer to the election. For instance ballotready.org, where you can just type in your address and it will tell you what’s going to be on your ballot.

Is there anything that you would like to tell young women?

Get registered and get as many other young people as possible registered for this election. Get them to turn in that ballot. This is a movement and I don’t want us to take the foot off of the gas. Voting is the best way to address a lot of the issues that are happening in our communities right now. That’s how we’re going to get to a democracy that benefits all of us.

 

Check out our Use Your Voice live series @levis to learn more.

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