Earlier this week, some of my Independent Sector colleagues and I were in a conversation with the Independent Sector Board of Directors. As is often the case in these and other IS meetings, we started with a “check in” question. This one centered on our founder, John W. Gardner, and invited directors to reflect on what guidance Gardner would be giving us in this moment of a pandemic, economic collapse, and racial reckoning.
One reflection that caught my attention was the notion that Dr. Gardner would have been urging us to use our vital voice as a sector, and the tools at our disposal, to help drive the nation forward and protect civil society.
It got me thinking about voting and November 3. And instead of the battle cry I wear emblazoned across my COVID-19 mask (VOTE!), it made me think about a different voice that we might really need right now. It’s more a voice of reasoned calm, of intention and purpose, and of hope.
Let’s put a finer point on it. Yes, these elections could be a holy mess, and much may feel out of our control or wickedly manipulative. Breathe. Your vote still counts. Full stop. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Votes will be tallied, and results will be known, though it may take more time that we like. And there is a critical role you, as a nonprofit leader, can still play in making sure that nonprofits are doing one of the things we do best – getting people to the polls. If you haven’t already done so, reach out to your local election officials, grab the guidance they are sharing with those anxious to vote (and maybe anxious about the process) and share that information across all your networks. We cannot take for granted that, for some, the voting process this year will feel particularly charged and potentially dangerous to their health. Help them with access to trusted information that can turn the fear into calm resolve.
And here’s another thought. Right now, it is estimated that we could be short 250,000 poll workers across the nation this coming election day. As we know, senior citizens who often are the backbone of the volunteer poll-worker operation, are at greater risk in this pandemic. Many are choosing to stay away. If you haven’t already done so, consider volunteering as a poll worker – or encouraging your staff to do the same. It’s a small but very real contribution we can make to strengthening our civic infrastructure when it seems to be frayed and torn. It might just be a sign of hope that you can bring to this moment.
Now, to be sure, there is still a need for “the battle cry.” We continue to see that clearly in our advocacy to the Congress to make sure there is funding available — $3.6 billion in funding, to be exact – to ensure healthy elections. States need resources to ensure viable vote from home procedures, healthy polling places, and adequate staffing at polling stations. Our voice is breaking through. Just this week the Speaker of the House put forward another version of a fourth COVID-19 relief package. In part due to our collective voice and our willingness to go to “battle station” in our advocacy efforts, the $3.6 billion in funding to support healthy elections here and now remains in the bill. I don’t know where this will land. But there has been a small victory even if this never gets to a vote. We have used our vital voice as a sector on things that matter, like making sure that citizens don’t need to choose between their constitutional right to vote and their health. That has mattered.
I didn’t know John W Gardner. I’ve tried to get to know him through his writings. I hope he’d tell us we are on the right track.
Thanks, as always, for spending some time with this issue of Voices for Good. Go vote – and do what you can to help others do the same.