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We interviewed Gloribell Mota, Lead Organizer of Neighbors United for a Better East Boston about the 2011 Municipal Elections.  Voter Mobilization is Alive and Well!

What was the most exciting aspect of your work during the past Municipal elections?

For NUBE it was our third round of doing civic engagement and our member leadership ability and personal development to collaborate with other civic engagement groups throughout the city was exciting and positive.  NUBE was civically active in our community and in our city and made those connections to move our target groups (youth, immigrants and people of color) to work in a more collaborative way.  We worked with city and statewide organizations including, Chinese Progressive Association, New England United for Justice, Boston Workers’ Alliance, MassVOTE and Oiste.  In East Boston, we worked with East Boston Ecumenical Community Council, Neighborhood of Affordable Housing (NOAH) and Maverick community residents.  We were deliberative with our civic engagement, and participated actively in engagement groups in East Boston and throughout the city.

What, if any, were some of the challenges engaging voters?  What were some of your achievements?

In general, our targeted voters who should be the most civically engaged are really the least civically engaged.  The motivation, desire and consciousness of why voting matters is a hard barrier.  Our canvassers had that challenge and it is not something that is new in a sense, but the Municipal election made it easier to get voters to be inspired at the local level.  Our preliminary achievement is that we targeted 3 sections in East Boston giving voters information and that we received calls from voters that needed our assistance.  Our members felt good that we co-hosted candidate forums with other allied organizations.  We were impressed that we identified voters that were not connected to organizations.  We were happy with how diverse and reflective of East Boston our participants were.  The biggest accomplishment in our target precincts was that we had a great increase with voter turnout from 20 – 80% in some areas.

How can we increase voter registration and participation in the Latino community?

We must decide on the way in which we approach this work.  Do we expand and go everywhere or stay within the 3 areas that we are known?  Our members decided overwhelmingly to have a very targeted focus and were able to distribute information about the candidates and elections in areas that we are known.  We developed some really good tools and used a shared civic engagement questionnaire as the basis to hold electeds accountable for the next 2 years.  We will continue to engage our community.   However, the real work is in between whatever election cycle, presidential, state or municipal we must educate voters on why voting matters.

Would you like to see more young people civically engaged?  Why or Why not?

In one of our precincts 2 of our youth ages 18 and 20, who couldn’t vote because of their immigration status convinced people to vote.  Even though they can’t vote they still participated civically.  Through door knocking and a voter registration drive in the senior cafeteria at the high school, they encouraged their friends who are US Citizens to register.   Because EB has a very young population there is a huge area for growth in young voters.  They are their own network and have the conversations.  It is more effective and resonates when young people talk to each other.   Our experience is that we can strengthen and connect young people with their peers, rather than having a seasoned organizer reach out.

What would you like to see happen around voter organizing and mobilization over the next two years?

In the next 2 years, which is part of what Access Strategies Fund has been trying to do, our focus will be around accountability structures.  We want these voters that are considered infrequent to become targets with all candidates particularly incumbents.  Many candidates don’t spend dollars to mail literature or put low-targeted area voters on the infrequency list.  We want these candidates to look at these voters and say that we need to reach them! In addition we want to uplift and raise the consciousness of our voters in measuring candidates.  We want to track and communicate to our voters, on record, who supports the community issues, and hold them accountable.   We have already started working on Economic Justice, and are engaged in the presidential elections.  There will be a hurdle getting people to vote during the presidential, senatorial and mayoral elections.  Voters don’t have jobs, government has been cutting our programs and deporting immigrants at extremely high levels.  This has not translated into policy that benefits the 99%.   What will be our magic message, besides fear?  We don’t have the answers to what will be that inspiring thing.  We are working on it and I think that is going to be a huge part of the work.  The movement is not about 2012 or 2013, it’s about the infrastructure that we are putting in place.  Everything that they are taking away will be the transformation into the national/world view in the next 2 years.

What should funders know about your work?

As much as people are voting we are not voting at the rate that we should be and we are also seeing that its becoming harder and harder to deal with racial and economic justice in the minds of the policymakers.  One way that we do it is within our voter engagement work.  With NUBE we approach the voter work to advance the community.  We ask, what does it mean to be in a community and not participate?  The basic things matter and make my community healthy for our children.  It’s a building model and it is transformative with our members because we really push our members to build relationships with each other.  They may not like each other or share the same ideologies but they understand each other.  It is not instant gratification work.   This work is now cross generational, immigrants/citizens, long generational in East Boston working with new folks.  That is what civic engagement is all about.  We are getting beaten in terms of the resource piece considering what it takes to do this work.  The support for organizations that were funded in the municipal elections was inadequate for the amount of work that we did.  It would be ideal if it didn’t take resources and funding to get our communities to vote.  We should approach this work knowing that we need funding.  We must be conscious that years of silence, disenfranchisement and being too comfortable is our attempt to undo what cannot be undone.   Voter engagement work should be seen as an investment in the social justice movement.

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