September 25 2017

Who would’ve thought that after living only a year in San Francisco I’d have the opportunity to record a Facebook live conversation with activist & director of Presente.org Matt Nelson along with the Secretary of State of California, Alex Padilla?

A part of me feels that incredible moments like these are a part of my life path. The last time I spoke with a high profile politician, I was 9 or 10 years old living in Atlanta. Sitting right next to Congressman John Lewis, I hosted a Q&A we did for a local church youth group I was a part of. What an incredible moment for me — a young black girl raised in Decatur, GA in the position to meet and interview a prominent political figure from the civil rights movement. It’s safe to say that I understand the magnitude of that opportunity now more than I did back then. Moments like that, along with becoming a documentary filmmaker in college and my continued activism through media and education, prepared me for the conversation I had last month with Secretary Padilla and Matt Nelson.

Located in Oakland, The California Endowment partnered with Presente.org, the Secretary of State’s Office, and Fusion Media Group to record the first-ever Facebook live panel discussion about voting rights and expansion efforts in California. My involvement with Fusion/Splinter’s Rise Up: Be Heard Internship Program allowed me to participate in this discussion as a youth reporter.

From Left: Presente.org’s Matt Nelson, CA Secretary of State Alex Padilla and Fusion Youth Reporter Aisha Davis.

 

Matt Nelson is the executive director of Presente.org, the largest national Latinx online organization advancing social justice with technology, media, and culture. Reasonably, he was the moderator for the conversation. He began explaining to the thousand or so people watching why we all came together, “to have a very exciting and important conversation about protecting our voice, our vote, and voting rights.” He introduced Secretary Padilla and myself as the panelists. Hopping right into our discussion, which lasted a total of 30 minutes, Padilla addressed white supremacy within the first minute. That’s what I’m talking about!

Days before the event, I followed @AlexPadilla on twitter. His tweets are so informative and above else, direct shade at white supremacy in politics and voting rights. It’s refreshing to see that in person; he’s as consistently vocal and transparent when addressing the system, current events, and personal investment as he is on twitter.

During our conversation Padilla said voter suppression is actually rooted in white supremacy. “The hatred and bigotry we saw last weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia” he said, “happened only days after we celebrated the 52nd anniversary of the federal Voting Rights Act.” Explaining how this law has stood for over 5 decades to protect and defend our fundamental right to vote, Padilla brought to our attention events like white nationalist rallies and other efforts of voter suppression, saying those are acts in great contrast to the type of progress we need, and must be deliberately resisted.

Alex Padilla became California Secretary of State in January of 2015 and has been committed to modernizing, increasing, and strengthening voting rights. “As Secretary of State one of my primary responsibilities is overseeing elections. Making sure people have true access to the ballot.” Padilla elaborated during the conversation on exactly what efforts are being done in the State of California to provide such voting access and the reduction voter suppression.

Voter suppression is a strategy to influence the outcome of an election by discouraging or preventing people from voting i.e. elimination of early voting opportunities & strict ID laws. Padilla noted that voter suppression disproportionately impacts black & brown communities as opposed to others which is a part of the reason he associates it with perpetual white supremacy.

I asked Padilla, what efforts are being done in CA to expand voter rights and access through making civic engagement easier? He provided updates and plans for making voting registration and casting a ballot overall easier for eligible citizens.

● California was one of the first states to implement online voter registration,
● Automatic Registration starts next April; if you’re eligible (18+ & citizen), you will be automatically registered to vote during the process of going to the DMV to get your driver’s license.
● Our state is moving to a system where everyone gets a ballot in the mail.
● Many places in California participate in early voting: voting over the course of 11 days, not just 1.
● Voting Centers are located in a variety places throughout communities to allow people to vote at local venues closer to where you live, go to school, or work. More choices, convenience, more empowerment from a voter’s perspective.

“Changing laws and policy in California to …. is not easy but we have to register and make sure we vote”, says Padilla. He encourages all people to vote as a sure way to advocate for ourselves.

Initially I wasn’t convinced though… that’s easier said than done, right??

I was transparent with Matt, Secretary Padilla, and the live audience about my skepticism around voting; I mentioned that I was on the spectrum of people who, because of historic and persistent acts of oppression against my community, I generally don’t trust federal or local government. And like some other people who share these sentiments, I was discouraged from voting. It took my grandmother dragging me to the polls just to vote in the last presidential election. Again realizing now more than I did then, that even though my vote for the president didn’t work in my favor, going to the polls was still an opportunity to familiarize myself with other policies that affect California and communities I’m a part of.

I was curious how Padilla balances being deeply affected by systemic oppression and trauma, as a person of color, and still being able to engage in politics in healthy yet critical ways. His response led us to the reason he wanted to become a politician in the first place. Padilla explains that he is a proud son of his immigrant parents who are from Mexico and was raised in working class communities in California. With a background like this, he says, he had no choice but to get involved. He continued, “We didn’t know we were poor growing up but realized later. I lived in one of the neighborhoods in Los Angeles that a lot of politicians didn’t pay attention to. Why? We were poor and not many people voted. It was going to take a lot to change the economics of my neighborhood, but I knew if I organized and got friends, neighbors, and family members we would strengthen our political voice and force politicians to pay attention to us. Fast forward, that’s still what drives me today.”

The possibility of having a casual yet important conversations with politicians and influencers became a tangible reality when I put myself in the position to make it happen. Or in the case of interviewing John Lewis, the position my parents put me in. Regardless of what I believe to be my destiny, the work I put towards MAKING it happen matters more. Moving to the West Coast, attending graduate school for education, and doing video journalism are done not only in pursuit of my destiny with intention, but have become my ways of being civically engaged. Living in the Bay Area for only a short amount of time, I’ve already connected with so many phenomenal people and organizations that are also dedicated to being engaged, and are committed to improving their community. The amount of civic engagement I see in others inspires me to continue doing my part — having conversations, educating myself on different policies and now of course, voting.

Rewatching the live video for myself, there were some things I would’ve done differently. Other than changing my ‘chill’ posture where I came off waaaaaay too relaxed, which I find is a nervous habit of mine more than anything, I would’ve have liked to ask more questions about what’s being done to better inform and prepare communities for voting in their best interest prior to elections? Also, what programs are offered to support and train young aspiring politicians of color?

All in all, It was a pleasure meeting Matt Nelson, Secretary Alex Padilla, and the other people involved in planning the small production. Over 15,000 people tuned into our Facebook live which was incredible to see how many people are interested in political conversations on Facebook. There were people from all over engaged; leaving comments from places like Las Vegas, Dallas and some of my family and friends tuned in from Atlanta.

To give us hope about the amount of change people can make by voting, Secretary Padilla describes how California compares to other states; being the largest, it leads the country when it comes to enacting progressive policies that make it easier for communities to vote, while rejecting ones that are corrupt. He says there’s the proof that we are moving forward. “When people participate that’s when the good things happen, so we can’t give up.” Insight from Secretary Padilla and moderator Matt Nelson about the power of civic engagement was a great introduction to understanding my role in making political change. As I continue to be proactive and meet new people along the way, I am motivated to become even more intentional about being civically engaged.

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