Election Day is around the corner. As it approaches, there are more and more efforts to get young people to the ballot box and make their voices heard. But how do we do that?
Three weeks before Election Day, students gathered at the Stevenson Event Center for a SOMeCA-sponsored event: This is Our Future: Take Back the Vote. The event was facilitated by SOMeCA’s Student Organization Leadership (SOL) council and hosted by UC Santa Cruz alumna Tiffany Dena Loftin.
Loftin is the Director of Community Engagement at Vote.org, a national nonprofit that provides resources to voters. She warned students not to think of Santa Cruz as an isolated bubble.
“I don’t care that y’all are in Santa Cruz. [Things] happen here!” Loftin said. She listed remarkable UCSC alumni, including Angela Davis and Huey P. Newton. “This school matters.”
But how can UCSC student organizers live up to the campus’ storied history? Loftin and the SOL council shared some organizing strategies and tips.
Build Relationships and Share Knowledge
In pre-recorded messages to the attendees, Andrea Hailey, CEO of Vote. org, and Angelo Pinto, co-founder of the social justice organization Until Freedom, stressed the importance of coalition building.
“It’s difficult for individuals to confront a system,” Pinto said in the recording. “You have to build a system to confront a system, and to do that you must build a coalition.”
Brandon Apuntar, an attendee and a member of Bayanihan and the Asian/ Pacific Islander Student Alliance (APISA), echoed this sentiment. He highlighted the importance of using student organizations to create support networks.
“With a united team, you can feel like you’re making a difference,” Apuntar said.
Loftin connected attendees to Vote. org’s voter resources, including a polling place locator and ballot guide. She also emphasized the need to share specific information about what’s on the ballot, as well as exactly when, where, and how to vote.
Despite UCSC’s increasing voter turnout, Student Organization Advising & Resources Program Manager Arlan Mendiola has noticed that some students still seem uninformed about the issues on the ballot. Mendiola called on students to vote on the issues they’re passionate about.
“[Your] vote should be a reflection of what [you] care about,” Mendiola said. “That’s where folks need to spend more time … and they have that opportunity in the next twenty days.”
Canvass With A Purpose
After Loftin’s presentation, attendees participated in a voter canvassing training. Then, a few volunteers went up on stage and delivered canvassing speeches, as if they were asking the rest of the attendees to join their movement. Each performance was followed by cheers of encouragement from the students, and feedback from Loftin.
Loftin advised organizers to communicate how each voter’s specific contribution will help them reach shared goals. Naming the coalition behind the movement and explaining the sense of shared values is also important.
“It is now more important than ever for us to tell people we are working together,” Loftin said.
Zach P. was one of four attendees who went onstage with Loftin. When he took his seat at the start of the event, he didn’t know exactly what he was getting into. But he left the event thinking about ways to bring Loftin’s feedback to his work with the Santa Cruz Tenant Organizing Committee, a grassroots student movement that advocates for renters’ rights in Santa Cruz County.
Zach said the event helped him make connections between grassroots and electoral organizing.
“The best value we have is using these kinds of skills,” he said. “[We’re] not just using this for [elections] […] We need to make sure we can get people out there.”
Loftin urged students to make themselves visible on and after Election Day. That could mean posting a selfie with your “I Voted” sticker, sharing others’ Election Day posts, or telling your friends you’ve voted.
“Y’all [have] a responsibility to bring all this that I’ve talked about today to all of your peers,” Loftin said. “Bring them to the next event. We are twenty days away from the election.”