30 Nov 2012
Voting for Our Neighborhood! Community Organizing & Voter Engagement
By Aiden Graham
This election cycle, People’s Durham took on our most ambitious voter engagement program yet. With the help of a group called Black Organizing for Leadership and Dignity (BOLD) we developed a plan to canvass Precinct 13, one of the areas of most concentrated poverty in historical Black Durham and home to our tenant organizing projects in McDougald Terrace and Lincoln Apartments. Through the process we built lasting relationships and learned a ton about electoral work, organizing and the community.
Over the course of three weeks we held five canvass days. More than 30 volunteers participated, both project members and supporters, many coming out multiple times. Together we knocked on nearly 1,000 doors, leaving literature about voting and our current campaigns at each house.
To help all this happen BOLD got us access to technology that gave us information on all the registered voters in the neighborhood. We could look up how likely it was that someone would vote to target our efforts and generate contact lists and maps to use on our canvass days. They also connected us to a group called Wellstone Action who held a training for our canvassers on how to run a voter engagement program that’s linked to long-term grassroots organizing.
In practice our GOTV work helped bolster our neighborhood organizing even more than we’d anticipated. On one day we surveyed residents at Lincoln Apartments to see who had no place to go after their pending October 31st move-out deadline as part of our ongoing anti-eviction efforts. This helped us counteract the City’s consistent attempts to downplay the situation, to continue to educate residents about their rights as tenants, and to build a contact list that will help facilitate a smoother relocation for those who want to move and continued tenant organization among those residents who either can’t move or want to stay. In McDougald Terrace, the public housing community a few blocks down the hill, our GOTV work helped one of our current members promote her campaign for Resident Council president.
We also informed everyone that we spoke with about the Durham Housing Authority’s plans to redevelop of McDougald Terrace and the surrounding neighborhood. Building political power in Precinct 13 through organizations of tenants and homeowners is the best hope we have in making sure the redevelopment serves the needs of the people who live there. Accordingly, regardless of which campaign we were working on, our constant theme was to vote express your commitment to the future of the neighborhood, rather than endorsing a particular candidate.
It feels safe to say that this work took on dimensions we never could have expected. We are poised to engage the beginning phases of the redevelopment planning process in a much better position due to this work. In the process we hopefully also helped shift the debate around the role of elections and electoral work in struggles for justice.