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Empowering Democracy: How Community Advocates Champion Ethnic Votes and Catalyze Civic Engagement


Community organizing has long been associated with efforts to register and mobilize low-propensity voters, linking the drive for specific gains with electoral participation. 

The approach involves actively engaging with communities, a practice fundamental to successful labor and community organizing. Moreover, it underscores the direct connection between voting and tangible outcomes, reinforcing the idea that individuals’ votes matter.

In a recent press briefing by Ethnic Media Services, it was discussed how community organizing can benefit the most vulnerable and how can they evolve. 

Ernie Serrano, Integrated Voter Engagement Organizer with Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education (SCOPE) in South Los Angeles, reflects on the aftermath of the 1992 LA uprising. This pivotal moment in history triggered a wave of activism and community organization, born out of the realization that decades of disenfranchisement had reached a breaking point. The scars of heavy policing, redlining, and systemic neglect prompted local leaders to take action.

SCOPE, a community organization with a mission to bridge systemic disparities, was established to address the needs of black and brown communities in districts 8, 9, and 10. Focusing on policy education and equitable justice in various realms, SCOPE provides a platform for the underrepresented to have a voice in critical discussions.

The organization’s inception during the crack epidemic prompted innovative solutions. Led by figures like Congresswoman Karen Bass, community coalitions targeted issues like crack houses and local liquor stores exacerbating problems. SCOPE’s approach empowers communities impacted by systemic conditions directly.

In 2024, SCOPE stands as a testament to grassroots efforts’ effectiveness, as seen in its support for Karen Bass’s mayoral campaign against a billionaire opponent, despite significant funding disparities.

Engaging disenfranchised communities in voting has been a persistent challenge for SCOPE. Convincing individuals who feel the system is rigged against them and addressing economic disparities that breed disillusionment are ongoing struggles.

“The fight against environmental injustices, such as shutting down active oil drills in urban areas, exemplifies Scope’s commitment to advocating for the well-being of marginalized communities. Despite hurdles, victories at the local level showcase the tangible impact of grassroots movements,” Serrano said. 

Debbie Chen, Executive VP with the National OCA, Asian Pacific American Advocates, brings a Houston perspective to the discussion. She highlights the critical link between census, redistricting, and voting, emphasizing that civic engagement begins with the census. Chen’s strategy involves connecting being counted to direct financial impact, making it a universal language, particularly important in the diverse AAPI community facing language barriers.

Chen dismantles the fear associated with the word ‘power,’ framing voting as the means to attain influence and shape the future. Addressing the AAPI community’s growth in Texas, she underscores its potential impact on elections, creating an untapped pool for parties and candidates.

Anisha Hardy, Executive Director of Alabama Values, adds her insights, emphasizing the critical relationship between electoral participation and community engagement, particularly focusing on young voters and marginalized communities. Reshaping the narrative around voting, connecting it to issues like social justice, healthcare, and education, becomes crucial, according to Hardy.

The challenges of voter suppression and misinformation are discussed, highlighting ongoing battles against legislation that could criminalize assistance with absentee ballots. Digital organizing tools and partnerships with organizations like Progress Now are employed to combat misinformation and mobilize voters.

Hardy stressed the need to reshape the narrative around voting, making it relatable by connecting it to issues like social justice, healthcare, and education—what she terms “kitchen table issues.” She highlights the power of storytelling as a tool to humanize complex topics and engage communities.

The discussion emphasized the need to shift the narrative around marginalized voters, recognizing their skepticism rooted in systemic injustices. Building a responsive political and media system becomes paramount as these advocacy organizations continue their tireless efforts, underscoring the enduring importance of voting beyond election cycles. Through community organizing, these organizations strive to empower communities and effect meaningful change.

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