With the midterm elections looming large this November in the United States, the call to get out and vote echoes loud and clear across the news and social media. Despite the tight races being run across the nation, voter turnout, particularly among young people, is depressingly low. That's where this month's featured member company comes in—#VoteTogether of Cross Campus Downtown LA.
We sat down with Director Angie Jean-Marie to learn what her team is doing to encourage participation and make voting more than just a civic duty.
Q. In one sentence, describe what your company does.
A. #VoteTogether is changing the culture of voting and increasing voter participation by partnering with nonprofit partners to host parties at polling locations during early vote and on Election Day.
Q. What is the problem you're solving?
A. According to the nonpartisan, nonprofit organization FairVote, participation in midterm elections generally falls to 40% of the eligible voting population, as compared to 60% during presidential elections. In 2014, turnout among eligible voters was just 36.4% – the lowest overall participation level for midterm elections since World War II. Among African Americans and Hispanics, voter turnout was 40.6% and 27%, respectively. And although 62.2% of students were registered in 2014, just 18 percent made it to the polls.
The reasons why people don’t vote are varied but the effects on our democracy are significant. Low voter participation rates reflect complex, deeply-rooted challenges in the United States and within our communities. And to make it worse, the barriers that keep Americans from voting are only reinforced by not participating in the process. This creates a vicious cycle that erodes our civic fabric.
Q. What brought your company to Los Angeles, and what do you like about the startup ecosystem here?
A. #VoteTogether is an initiative of Civic Nation, a DC-based nonprofit. We are the first West Coast team and have the good fortune of being at the intersection of policy, community organizing, and entertainment and media since we are located in Los Angeles.
#VoteTogether is a nonprofit but it functions like a startup—we went from 57 events in 2017 to over 1,700 and counting in 2018. The startup ecosystem in Los Angeles has brought us great team members who have a variety of backgrounds, skill sets, and passions—but who all think really big. All of that comes together to create a really powerful and transformative program.
Q. How has being a part of the Cross Campus community helped you or your business grow?
A. As a new initiative in LA with a big ramp up during election season, we needed a space that would grow quickly with us as we added new team members. Cross Campus has been a critical piece of our organizational expansion. We started with just one coworking membership and scaled up to two offices in a matter of months to help us meet our programmatic goals this year.
Q. What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
A. In May, our first three team members attended a conference about bright ideas for the upcoming election. We learned about really incredible and inspiring work happening across the country. But it was really gratifying to see the collective enthusiasm of a few hundred attendees when we talked about the #VoteTogether mission. That support helps drive us and reminds us that the voting celebrations are so critical because of the culture change that they inspire.
Q. Talk about a time you or your team failed at a goal you needed to achieve.
A. Our program is built on partnership development, and we have cultivated partners over months who end up not being able to participate in the program. The benefit of these missteps is that they keep us learning about how to tell our story, what is appealing to the general public, and new ways of getting to yes.
Q. How do you and your team define success?
A. We succeed if we shift the narrative around voting and see consistent increases in participation through our voting celebrations. We would love for Election Day to be on par with Independence Day, Labor Day, and Memorial Day in terms of holidays that bring communities together to celebrate our rights, our democracy, and progress.
Q. If your company belonged to a Hogwarts house, which one would it be and why?
A. It’s so hard to pick one! We would be as determined as Gryffindor, focused on learning like Ravenclaw, friendly and inviting like Hufflepuff, and strategic like Slytherin.
Q. Who do you respect the most, and why?
A. I have an immense respect for community and grassroots organizers. At the core of #VoteTogether’s work are hundreds of people in communities across this country battling the odds to ensure that the voices of their neighbors are heard. It’s cheating to say all of them, but I respect them deeply.
Q. Where do you see your organization in 10 years?
A. In 10 years, I hope that #VoteTogether can look back as people all across the country are celebrating election season and reflect on this important work that we have done to make voting celebratory, participatory, and inclusive for years to come.
Learn more about #VoteTogether here.
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