By Jose Ibarra, Field Organizer and Capacity-Building Strategist, NCLR
In late October, I had the opportunity to attend Southwest Key Program’s “Rock the Ballot Box” early voting block party in East Austin, Texas. As an NCLR Affiliate, Southwest Key Programs has shined in our Latino Empowerment and Advocacy Project (LEAP), registering nearly 650 new voters—250 more than their initial goal—and executing several “get out the vote” tactics, including phone banking, canvassing, direct mailings, and displaying posters and billboards throughout their neighborhood.
But Southwest Key Programs didn’t stop there. Additionally, they signed up to serve as a mobile early-voting site for three hours on the afternoon of October 26, as well as threw a block party to celebrate civic engagement within the community. Children sang the praises of our nation’s democracy, there were myriad posters encouraging the right to vote, and an amazing poetry slam on the history of voting by students and numerous professional poets was held. We were touched by the community’s pride in coming together to perform their civic duty. It was an event we will never forget.
This blog post from Southwest Key Programs describes in greater detail their civic engagement efforts:
The East Austin community gathered at the Southwest Key El Centro De Familia for food, family fun, and early voting. Despite stiff winds and a 20 degree temperature drop, people came out to the Southwest Key El Centro De Familia to Rock the Ballot Box!
166 people voted early, making the Southwest Key Mobile Polling Place fourth in the entire county for mobile early voting sites on October 26. The top three locations were open for at least 9 hours, while Southwest Key’s Mobile Voting was open for only four hours. Additionally, this is the highest voter turn-out for Southwest Key since they started as a mobile polling place in 2010. The previous record was 36 voters on May 16, 2012.
The voter turn-out, particularly the presence of many first-time voters, caught the attention of local media. KXAN sent reporters to capture the event and interview a few of the first time voters. Univision Austin also interviewed first time voters as well as Viviana Hurtado visiting from the Washington, D.C. based group, Project Vote.
Hotdogs, popcorn, and healthy fruit snacks were passed out to kids and adults, while the Austin Soundwaves Choir performed in jackets and sweaters for the crowd. Following the inspiring a cappella performance by the more than 50 members of Austin Soundwaves Choir, emcees Luis Ordaz and Ebony Stewart took the stage to introduce speakers and poets.
Three students from East Austin College Prep, Salvador Alvarez, Olibia Barrientos, and Eryn Porter-Whitehead, read essays on the importance of voting interspersed with performances from local slam poets Olivia Slusher, Chucky Black, Zachary Caballero, and Element615.
The Austin Fire Department, Engine #15, was onsite to give tours of their truck to curious attendees. Neighborhood business partners staffed tables with face-painting, balloon fun, and free blood sugar screenings. Two moonbounces also kept children occupied, while adults were able to vote.
Organizer of the event, Valerie Joiner, was extremely pleased with turn-out, “Especially in the impoverished Govalle/Johnston Terrace neighborhood! Involvement in the the civil and political process promotes a sense of ownership in the community, and empowers people to make decisions that can enhance their lives and create a better future for children.”