Parades, street theater, open-air debates, festivals were once part of America’s culture of voting, and Citizen University aims to revive them.
Citizen University and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation have announced the winners of an open call for projects that will generate creative celebrations and joyful public rituals that encourage people to vote.
Winners have been announced in Miami; Wichita, KS, and St. Paul, MN. Projects selected in Akron, OH; West Palm Beach, FL; Grand Forks, ND, and Charlotte, NC, will focus on elections set for November 2018.
With $200,000 from Knight Foundation, Seattle nonprofit Citizen University is partnering with activists, artists, organizers and everyday citizens to launch initiatives in these seven cities across the country to generate localized, action-oriented projects that foster a stronger culture of voting.
“Ensuring people come out to vote is essential to building a stronger democracy,” said George Abbott, Knight Foundation director for community and national initiatives. “The Joy of Voting is a simple idea that seeks to change the culture around voting and make it more fun. Driven by citizens, for citizens it pushes people to get involved in their community in an organic and fun way.”
Through the Joy of Voting project, Citizen University aims to address a growing trend of lower voter turnout in local elections. The project kicks off this year with initiatives in Miami, St. Paul and Wichita, and will continue in 2018 in Akron, West Palm Beach, Grand Forks and Charlotte.
The Joy of Voting project derives its vision from an article in The Atlantic, written by Citizen University founder and CEO Eric Liu, in which he asserts that it’ is possible to revive 18th and 19th Century practices of raucous, participatory activity and pageantry around elections.
“Instead of ‘eat your vegetables’ or ‘do your duty,’ voting should feel more like ‘join the club,’” Liu said. “Or better yet, ‘join the party.’”
Winning organizations in Miami include Comic Cure, Miami Dade College’s Institute for Civic Engagement and Democracy, Engage Miami, The Plantain and the New Florida Majority Education Fund.
The projects range from Comic Cure’s late-night entertainment show hosted by Billy Corben, to a satirical video created by The Plantain.
The New Florida Majority and Engage Miami will host several separate, get-out-the-vote themed parties in neighborhoods around the city, and local residents will discover unique, personalized yard signs created by MDC students on lawns around town.
Each project receives $3,600 to complete the work. Already underway, the diverse group of winners will implement their initiatives in advance of the municipal elections taking place on Nov. 7, 2017. The 15 projects in Miami, St. Paul and Wichita will serve as models for what a vibrant, participatory culture of voting could look like.
“During last year’s election cycle, we saw such hunger and excitement around these creative, fun in-person activities. With just a little bit (of) inspiration, it was thrilling to see what projects everyone came up with,” said Ben Phillips, senior program officer at Citizen University and director of the Joy of Voting project. “We can’t wait to see what sort of creativity is unleashed around the local elections this year.”
Citizen University piloted the program in four cities for the November 2016 general election. This year, the projects move out of the federal domain to focus on mayoral and municipal elections taking place in each city. The local focus will amplify a key component of the Joy of Voting program: to unite neighbors around claiming power within their communities.
“Joy of Voting projects bridge the critical gap between the right to vote and the desire to vote,” said Sara Yousuf, founder and board member at Engage Miami. “These projects do the critical work of reminding people of the excitement and power that comes with taking part in the civic process.”
Visit www.joyofvoting.us for more details on the events and activities in Miami, St. Paul and Wichita.
Support for Citizen University forms one part of Knight Foundation’s efforts to invest in civic innovators who help cities attract and keep talented people, expand economic opportunity and create a culture of engagement. The foundation believes that designing places to achieve these goals is crucial to city success.