The 16th President of the United States Abraham Lincoln once said, “Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.”
If recent election cycles have done anything they have reminded us of the consequences of voting and the power that a vote can have in shaping policy. With our social and political climate increasingly polarized, elections are said to be “tighter” than ever before. A decades-long legacy of voter restriction and suppression has created a gap where those on the margins are left out of the process entirely. Regardless of the direction in which someone chooses to vote, it is critical that every American realize the very real consequences that come from elections; decisions have outcomes. Apathy for civic participation does not exclude one from those outcomes. Suffrage is a pillar of American democracy; a condition that is inalienable and has taken generations to shape into its most perfect form. The question now becomes what can be done to engage, encourage, and motivate voters? How can community-development organizations play a role?
Jericho Road Episcopal Housing Initiative is a community development corporation (CDC) which focuses on developing affordable housing, promotes homeownership, and provides health and education-oriented opportunities for working families throughout New Orleans. Our role, however, does not end with housing development but instead emphasizes building relationships and addressing structural issues within our community that prevent families from fully prospering. Acknowledging the intersection between voting and the need for systemic change, Jericho Road has made it a priority to mobilize community members and drive forward a community-led agenda that identifies and provides solutions to people’s needs. In partnership with The Power Coalition, an organization whose focus is to build the infrastructure needed to achieve shifts in civic engagement, work is being done to target and support citizens through the electoral process. Jericho Road considers itself non-partisan, but like The Power Coalition, seeks to shift power in Louisiana back into the hands of the people; only then will the government become more fully representative and the barriers to structural change can be eliminated. For the upcoming election cycle, Jericho Road and The Power Coalition are partnering to spearhead a “Get Out The Vote (GOTV)” campaign, targeting infrequent voters and providing resources to them that encourage voting participation. Through these efforts, we aim to bring 32,000 voters to the polls citywide. Jericho Road is taking an active role by engaging community members through canvassing and phone banking to encourage early voting. Jericho Road does not support any candidate. This collaboration allows Jericho Road to offer crucial neighborhood-level leadership support in addition to The Power Coalition’s technical and financial assistance.
In the community, people should be given a space to grow and prosper. Of course, we are reminded that such an opportunity is often not evenly distributed. By mobilizing people to action, real change can occur at all levels and domains of society. The goal of voter mobilization is to accomplish this very ideal, ensuring that the needs of the people are in the hands of the community.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway.” Our organizational namesake – a parable of the Good Samaritan – is an important reminder of the value of community and what can and should be done so that all can rise.
For more information about Jericho Road’s community engagement efforts, please contact Michael Robinson via e-mail: michaelrobinson@JerichoHousing.org