The freedom to vote is a freedom worth celebrating.
by Alán de León
On the ballot this November are a litany of incredibly important issues — abortion access, climate action, racial justice and democracy itself, to name a few. The stakes are high and elections are certainly a serious business. But in all this one thing has become lost: that democracy should be fun.
Up until October 11th, which was the last day to register to vote in Texas, we had dedicated the vast majority of our energy to youth voter registration efforts. We hosted over 60 events on National Voter Registration Day alone, featuring mechanical bulls, bouncy castles, pizza and paletas, celebrity guests, and thousands of young Texans eager to make their voices heard and empower their peers to do the same.
We did all this not just because voting is important and we love to party (though it certainly is and we definitely do), but because research has shown that promoting civic participation through festivals is an incredibly effective way to increase turnout. We did it because feeding into the doom and gloom narrative that positions young people of color to save us isn’t sustainable. We did it because young people of color deserve to have their voices celebrated. We did it because we believe young people are more likely to show up, not only if they understand the stakes of an election, but if showing up itself is presented as an enjoyable, rather than a solemn obligation. Because it should be. It should bring us joy to show up for ourselves and each other. Fundamentally, the promise of democracy is all about community. And democracy really works when we make those with whom we share a community excited about our futures and the prospect of building power through the ballot box.
Across the board, our efforts this year have registered thousands of new young voters to cast a ballot in this election. That’s no small feat, but the challenge leading up to Nov. 8 is making sure the people who are registered to vote show up and do so — a challenge toward which we apply the same principle: democracy should be fun.
To kick off these efforts, we held a joint event with Deeds Not Words, NextGen America and Lin Manuel Miranda at the University of Houston campus. Now leading up to the big E-Day, we’ll be hitting the pavement, knocking on doors, and encouraging people to get out and vote. We’ll be canvassing in the morning and holding youth power happy hours in the evening. Come election day, we’ll be throwing parties at the polls on college campuses because the freedom to vote is a freedom worth celebrating.
A proactive, grassroots outreach approach rooted in collective joy is what we envision and what we strive for. Through peer-to-peer democracy, we know we can create an understanding of the stakes of this election through the relationships we build. We can make the case for democracy accompanied by hope and the excitement of political possibility.
We do this by working to ensure that young voters can make the connection between civic participation and protecting the freedoms they hold dear: the freedom to choose when and if to start a family; the freedom to live without constant fear of gun violence; and the freedom to breathe clean air, drink clean water, and leave behind a livable planet for all.
Protecting these freedoms requires engaging in the political process. Our mission is to make that engagement an appealing exercise — it can and should be a joyful experience to shape our future for the better.
Politics is a serious business, we don’t deny that, but it doesn’t need to be a somber one. We are engaging, empowering and appealing to young people across the state through celebrations of civic engagement because it is what the moment demands. Young people are the moment and the movement, and we are declaring the future is ours to determine, and that we will do so with joy in our hearts, passion in our souls, and lightning in our shoes.