Voter Registration: A Perspective from a Youth Community Organizer
Since I became a volunteer at the Arab American Association, I have gained many valuable skills, including community organizing. The most important part of my job as a community organizer is registering voters. One of the Association’s many goals is to register members of the Bay Ridge community, especially Arabs, to vote. We want to empower our community and register people to vote because we believe everyone’s voices should be heard.
As community organizers, we meet at the Association almost everyday, except for the weekends and usually we canvas the area at least a few times a week. We go out into the community in groups of two or three or sometimes even eight. As teams we establish an objective for the number of forms we want completed that day. In addition to canvassing the neighborhood, we travel to Manhattan and meet other organizations that are working against practices such as Stop and Frisk, deportation, and racial profiling. Our meetings there help us learn how to organize communities by hosting events that encourage others to come and listen to issues that affect the community. One of these events was the 2nd Annual Iftar held at the Association on Friday, July 27th where we provided food and games for everyone to take part in, while informing them about our efforts in the community. The Arab American Association is now establishing a connection between diverse groups of voters in Brooklyn and Staten Island as part of our goal to achieve over 3,500 newly registered voters between the two boroughs. I am proud to be a part of this effort.
I was surprised to discover how simple it was to fill out voter registration forms. All I have to do is ask people if they are registered to vote, and if they are not, I encourage them to fill out a form. I establish trust between the potential voter and the Association and allow them to fill out the information required. I will walk in any weather to any street in Bay Ridge to find new voters, but alas, the weather is not the hardest part of my job. As it turns out, most people in the Bay Ridge community seem like they do not want to vote. They avoid registering despite the positive change their voice could make.
Though this month of Ramadan should be a time when the Arab community amplifies their voices, many still do not recognize the importance of voting. I noticed that many people are too busy with their daily routine and do not realize the change they could make by simply filling out a short form. Though many might complain that they are tired or cranky from fasting all day, or simply too tired from their daily activities in this hot weather, there is really no excuse not to register. I am also fasting for Ramadan, and yet I am still out working to register voters.
Even though this job has been tough and we are not always successful in our canvassing efforts, I think we can still register about more than 1,000 people in the future. I know that if we become more persistent, develop our spoken Arabic and connect to our community, we can reach our goal. We are a strong Arab American community and we need to show our local politicians that we are a powerful force. If we raise our voices as registered voters, we can choose who we want to represent us on a political level. I feel that this is important because the politicians, who currently represent this district, don’t reflect the true nature of our community. We need to inform people about the importance of voting because our voices are important. We need to show people that this hits home.
RAMA ALHERISH, 15, Student at Brooklyn Technical High School, Youth Community Organizer