For the past five years, The California Endowment (TCE) has made targeted investments in state policy change and in our 14 Building Healthy Communities (BHC) sites and other communities throughout the state. Our organization’s mission is to improve the health outcomes of all Californians, especially those who traditionally have lacked access to the resources and tools to help them lead healthier lives. One such resource and tool that is crucial in helping Californians access the resources necessary to lead healthier lives is civic participation.
Some may ask, what does civic participation have to do with community health? We believe that civic engagement is crucial in empowering individuals to build healthy communities. Our state’s Department of Public Health has also identified voting and civic engagement as key factors that impact the health of communities.
The CA Department of Public Health states: “Disparities in political participation across socioeconomic groups can influence political outcomes and the resulting policies could have an impact on the opportunities available to the poor to live a healthy life.” This is precisely what the #GETLOUD and #VOTA campaigns aim to uplift. It’s no secret that the communities and people we have invested in are amongst the most disenfranchised in the state.
Take our Fresno BHC site for instance. Our Fresno BHC site has a population living in poverty that is more than double our state average. The majority of our Fresno BHC site residents are renters. This BHC site has 33% more minorities and 7% more youth than the rest of our state. There are sections in our Fresno BHC site that have less than a 38% voter turnout. That is less than half of our state’s average voter turnout. And when you look at policies that disproportionately impact the health of poorer residents, like air pollution and exposure to hazardous waste materials, the Fresno BHC site ranks among the worst in the state. This trend repeats itself time and time again in many communities throughout our state.
The outlook is not much better for our youth across the state. Only 8.2% of eligible California youth turned out to vote in the November 2014 general election. The Public Policy Institute of California indicates that nearly a majority of younger adults (millennials) are not registered to vote and that they make up nearly 75% of those who are unlikely to vote. According to the U.S. Census, among the top reasons as to why they did not vote, young adults in California indicated that they were not interested and felt their vote would not make a difference.
This is the harsh reality that we currently face in our state: a lack of civic participation that often leads to policies and outcomes that negatively impact the health of the same residents who don’t participate. It is for this reason that many organizations who are looking to mobilize people to participate in civic activities often walk past people who are young, immigrants, low-income, and minorities. Statistically, they are much less likely to vote and participate in civic activities.
But what others see as a useless endeavor, we see as a unique opportunity to change the future and the health of our state. California is the largest minority-majority state, and through our BHC sites, community partners, and statewide campaigns, we are actively reaching out to young adults, immigrants, low-income individuals, and minorities. We reach out to them not to register them but to empower them to reflect on their lives and determine what they think is unjust in their communities. Essentially, what they believe should change.
It is for this reason that Juan Verdin, a resident of Sacramento who once felt isolated in his beliefs, decided to finally start voting and participating. He writes, “I am not undocumented, I have the privilege of voting, and I represent and speak for those in my community who cannot. This year I registered to vote, I turned in my first ballot, and I will not stop being civically engaged until everyone, regardless of immigration status, is able to have access to affordable health care.” Juan found a purpose behind his vote and we encourage others to do the same.
Now imagine if there were thousands, or even millions of people who, like Juan, found motivation and purpose for their participation. How would that change the health outcomes and the injustices happening every day in our communities and state? We believe that our state and communities are healthier when everyone participates civically. The #VOTA campaign, and the great work of our partners, offers them the opportunity to join an empowered community that believes that they can and should #GETLOUD about the issues that they care about.