by Pari McDonald, Ana McDonald, Marina Rojas, and Chiara Zanatta-Kline
(This article originally appeared on the South End Stories Youth Blog.)
The voices of those who are furthest from opportunity, who are actively being suppressed and kept from voting, must be heard, especially during this election. Ana (18), Pari (15), and Cymran (13) McDonald decided they wanted to do something about creating easy, accessible ways for the communities that they love and who have lifted them up in life, to register to vote. The sisters worked with young adults Chiara and Marina to build Mini Voter Registration Boxes for areas where QT/BIPOC voters may have difficulty printing voter registration forms or may not be able to easily get stamps or envelopes, especially during COVID. The girls also wanted to ensure that young voters were easily able to access voter registration by providing texting and QR codes to register online. Boxes were placed in the Central District, New Holly, White Center, High Point, Renton, Federal Way, and Tacoma.
I am not really someone that is known as an advocate. I typically talk in small groups with my friends about race and social justice issues, but I don’t usually share my thoughts out loud or in large groups. But these last four years have influenced me. My own grandmother had to face many hardships growing up, such as the Jim Crow Laws, and my uncles still face horrible treatment in many systems. My family does too, but in a different way. Colorism has benefited my family, but I realize that is just to divide us even further. The false idea that lighter skinned Brown people are better that is created because of white supremacy gives us a little more access. Although this access benefits me and my family, I realize it is unfair to others.
I know racism, colorism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia are all wrong and hurtful. So, I realized, I had to do something to help prevent them from happening. In the 2020 election we know that youth from Generation Z and voters are the key to winning the most important election in the history of the United States. We also know that government, if it works really well, can help everyone out with some of the biggest issues that are facing our generation such as student debt, the climate crisis, the legal system, affordable housing, and healthcare. In order to get to this point of helping others, changes need to be made.
In some ways, to a 15-year-old who cannot vote, this can feel overwhelming. I have to rely on older people around me and hope they make the best decisions for my life. That is why I worked with my sisters and other youth and young adults to do these Mini Voter Registration Boxes. My 13-year-old sister and I painted our box with Sponge Bob Square Pants, because we wanted to show that despite all of this hatred and fear, there are things that are bright and hopeful. I think art is a great way to express social justice and hope. I know that it is a small gesture in a world full of huge issues, but it is what I could do. I could work to make voting easy and accessible to those our systems are working to oppress. I could work to bring some small light into what seems like a lot of darkness. I could work with other youth and young adult activists to create a space to come together, listen to music, and unite because we all know that the only way we make change is together.
I turned 18 on Friday and voted on Sunday. This is the first time I have been able to vote, but before that I went to Olympia to fight for legislation to reverse the climate crisis and have been to other protests because I believe Black Lives Matter and workers need fair pay. As a senior working towards entering college as a marine biology major, my passion is around climate justice for BIPOC communities, who will be the most impacted but have contributed the least to the climate crisis. I work to restore salmon populations for the Orca whales for Whale Scouts, and I also created multilingual and BIPOC-focused literature for planting native plants, knowing that our communities already have extensive knowledge on farming and botany. I am also a student volunteer at the Seattle Aquarium, where my goal is to encourage female-identified/femme kids and youth to get excited about climate justice and the environment. This Mini Voter Registration Box project is so important to me because our communities are really capable and smart, yet at every turn systems and wealth tries to stop us from creating a just world. I will not accept that. This was one small way I could work with other youth to make sure our communities share their powerful voice.
In the midst of a pandemic, rampant white supremacy, devastating climate change, and the myriad of other tolls late-stage capitalism produces, we find ourselves rapidly approaching the next election and many of us may be asking ourselves — can it make a difference?
In response to our increasingly bleak circumstances, it has become popular to emphasize the necessity of voting, the importance of “using your voice,” and yet — the reasons people do not vote are often disregarded.
Voter suppression is a beast as old as elections, carefully nurtured by wannabe fascists in power. It’s arms extend in all directions to choke any remaining breath out of the promises of democracy, creating such a presence for itself that denial of its existence is rarely if ever heard. Whether by way of extensive, often complicated registration processes, purging of voter ballots, closing of polling stations, or lack of resources for people to learn about the process and potential candidates, the barriers seem never ending.
Organizations such as the ACLU and Sunrise Movement are taking action to work against these barriers, but the activism cannot — and does not — stop at the macro level. Young people especially are taking the reigns and charging forward to slay the beast, making efforts at the micro level to effect the change we need and create a government more representative of the people it aims to serve.
For too long, we have been convinced our power lies only in our abilities to serve the machine, but folks like our youth and young adults remind us to feel empowered in our ability to effect change within our communities. The system is ours to dismantle, piece by piece.
The first time I got to participate in a presidential election was in 2016. I remember the feeling of excitement I felt seeing my ballot come in the mail; the feeling of knowing I was a part of something bigger than myself. Going to drop off my first ballot was a moment I’ll never forget. In that moment, I felt my voice finally being heard.
These moments can feel fleeting nowadays and your voice gets worn out trying to get people to listen. But I will keep shouting until the needs in my community are met. Voting is a right, not a privilege granted only to some. Earlier this year, I began thinking of ways I could make my contribution to this upcoming election. I reached out to some amazing activists in the community to begin work on getting people registered to vote. We decided that we would make Mini Voter Registration Boxes, similar to a lending library, to be placed in underserved communities. Each box is beautifully designed by local artists and is unique to them. Inside, you will find postmarked envelopes along with registration sheets printed in English, Spanish, and Somali. We have also included QR codes for those with a smartphone. It has been an honor to work with such amazing people and I’m so excited to see our project finished.
Now let’s go vote!
Editor’s Note: Today, October 26, is the last day Washington State voters can get registered online. (Voters can also still register in person on Election Day, Tuesday, November 3.)
Ana, Pari, and Cymran McDonald live in South King County. Ana and Pari are in high school in Seattle and Cymran attends 8th grade in Seattle. The sisters are Fijian and White/Irish-American, however, their mom (who was born in Fiji) was adopted by her parents who are African American/Black and White/German-American. This connectio to multiple BIPOC communities roots the McGirls in a unique and important space in understanding how race and its intersections play a role in systems for their family members and their larger communities. The 2020 election is Ana’s first time voting.
Featured image: Ana, Chiara, Pari, and Cymran delivering their Mini Voter Registration Boxes. (Photo: Indira Bahner)