By: Claire Cox, President
Georgia Women (And Those Who Stand With Us)
Georgia Women (And Those Who Stand With Us) was recently asked to present our Civic Engagement work (#MiddleGAVotes) at The Bright Spots Summit in Baltimore, Md. This summit was intentionally scheduled in conjunction with TurboVote to create a two day “super summit” of voter registration and engagement experts, bringing together industry, grassroots organizations, academia and numerous civic engagement non-profits. Two of us traveled from Macon, Georgia, to Baltimore, not sure of our role or what we would learn, but honored to participate.
Upon arrival, Renita Patterson and I were greeted like rockstars as we entered the summit. The Bright Spots family and many other grassroots organizations were ready to make every moment count as we learned about each other’s work, and made connections for collaborations when possible! Friendships were made, the DJ got us energized, and the variety of approaches and personalities pulled us into the assurance that the level of positivity, focus, and creativity will result in increased voter turnout for 2018 and beyond.
Speakers presented new strategies for matching sources of funds with needs, and connecting data and research to grassroots efforts. Panels were made up of funding organizations, academics and non-profits. It was a “hit the ground running” morning for Renita and me, and I am afraid we missed some really good information because of not knowing much of the lingo surrounding the work.
When it came time for our panel, although our focus was on #middlegavotes, we appreciated the opportunity to tell the story of Georgia Women’s formation following the Women’s March on Washington; our growth from 50 to 850, and our successes regarding Paid Parental Leave, anti-discrimination protections for county employees, as well as our establishment of a Rapid Response Team to aid immigrant families under stress because of our country’s immigration enforcement.
Through our collaboration with Mile 22 Associates, Georgia Women (And Those Who Stand With Us) spearheads a voter engagement effort in middle Georgia designed to get information into the inboxes of every citizen. Middle Georgia suffers from lack of community coverage in our local newspaper, which, unfortunately, is printed in another community. Traditional voter engagement groups are not as active in Macon as they are in other parts of the country. People often don’t know about dates for voting, precinct locations, what will be on the ballot or even how to register to vote or make sure they have not been purged from the Secretary of State’s website.
#MiddleGAVotes has partnered with large employers, academic institutions, our City-County government and local Board of Education to use existing communication networks (email systems, electronic newsletters, inter-company websites and social media channels) to disseminate needed information to large numbers of people in our community. Our Content Committee, led by Renita, prepares weekly slides that our participating partners send to their networks. The information is non-partisan and is generally sourced from the Secretary of State’s website or local Board of Elections. The difference is, needed facts are delivered straight to a citizen’s inbox in a colorful, eye-catching format, versus left somewhere that requires initiative and, at times, perseverance, to locate. After only 4 months of operation, #MiddleGAVotes reaches more than 26,000 employees, students and educators and continues to grow weekly.
Following our panel presentation, Renita and I relaxed, and the remainder of the summit soaked up every piece of information available, met as many people as possible, and came home with more ideas than could possibly be implemented in one town.
Thursday morning, the TurboVote summit was an amazing short course in Civic Engagement organizations, methodology, data analysis and visioning. Since we were new to the arena of Voter Registration/Engagement, again I would say that new information came at us faster than we could sometimes comprehend, but great value was derived by just knowing all the different approaches and who to go to regarding each facet of the work.
Highlights included an understanding of the 2020 Census and its importance in the challenging times we are facing with immigrant families and people of color as it relates to voter engagement. It was great to meet, Juliana Cabrales of NALEO, an Alumna from Wesleyan College in Macon. (Wesleyan is a MiddleGAVotes partner). Other eye-opening moments occurred when the League of Women Voters showcased its Voter411 website, and Takoma Park, Md, revealed how far the envelope can be pushed in a community open to new and truly innovative methodology and laws.
But most excitingly, Renita and I came home determined to “Party at the Polls” in Macon, Ga, this fall. We hope to “Glam up the Midterms” along with Brad Jenkins from Laugh or Die, while we learn from Angie Jean-Marie and others at Civic Nation. In the short time since returning from The Bright Spots Summit, we have met with city officials, conversed with Brad and Angie, received approval from the Georgia Women Steering Committee, and the Georgia Women Civic Engagement Workgroup, as well as scheduled to speak to our County Commission, Board of Education and Board of Elections in hopes of bringing the celebratory spirit back to voting in Macon-Bibb County!
Thanks to the Bright Spots Summit organizers for including Georgia Women in this amazing two days. We truly believe the seeds planted in Baltimore will bloom in Macon, Ga, during the midterm and beyond.