As a national partner for National Voter Registration Day, Independent Sector will join organizations around the country who have committed to encourage supporters, volunteers, donors, and staff to register to vote ahead of the September 25 deadline. To highlight the good work of nonprofits around the country, we recently caught up with American Arab Institute (AAI), a nonprofit leadership organization that encourages civic participation among Arab Americans. Omar Baddar, deputy director, answered some questions about National Voter Registration Day, their own campaign titled #YallaVote, and why voting is a key element of their mission.
KGC: Tell us why the Arab American Institute chose to be a partner of Nonprofit VOTE’s National Voter Registration Day initiative?
OB: We believe in democracy, and democracy is strongest when the population is vigorously engaged. A government can only represent its people to the extent that the people’s voice shapes this government and its policies. To that end, we are committed to encouraging all forms of civic participation, and the National Voter Registration Day initiative is a quintessential event in this campaign for a better and stronger democracy.
KGC: Can you explain why voter engagement is part of AAI’s mission?
OB: AAI’s core mission is to empower Arab Americans to be part of political and civic life in our country. For years, the Arab American community suffered from what we refer to as the “Politics of Exclusion.” The intentional exclusion of Arab Americans from political and civic life figures significantly in the Institute’s origin story, and as a community, we refuse to be disenfranchised again. Electoral participation is at the core of political empowerment, so it was an easy decision for us to dedicate considerable energy toward increasing voter engagement in our community – it’s the first step towards meaningful political participation by which we can contribute to our nation and shape our own future.
KGC: Voter engagement is just one of the ways that nonprofits can advocate for their mission, but nonprofits often find it hard to add this kind of advocacy when resources are limited. How does AAI make it work?
OB: Even when resources are limited, we are lucky to have dedicated staff and volunteers who believe deeply in this mission. This isn’t just a “job” for many of us, it’s a passion for our country, and that passion can compensate for resource limitations. We have also been fortunate to have a strong integrated voter engagement program in our #YallaVote campaign that helps us connect with our natural constituency. [“Yalla” is the Arabic word for “let’s go.”] We are celebrating 20 years of #YallaVote this year, a commitment which translates into hundreds of registered voters, thousands of volunteer hours, and an immeasurable impact on local and national policies.
It’s never too early to promote our civic duties and rights! Concerned you might be too small for a #YallaVote t-shirt? Don’t worry, it can double as a dishdasha (just ask Kareem). pic.twitter.com/dw0nLQUn3l
— Arab American Inst. (@AAIUSA) August 31, 2018
KGC: What specific things will you be doing in the next two weeks ahead of National Voter Registration Day on September 25.
OB: By relying on our network of enthusiastic, committed volunteers nationwide, we are now positioned to host 40+ #YallaVote events throughout the nation. These events will broaden the reach of #YallaVote into local communities through partnerships. Between now and NVRD, we are preparing our partners by: hosting webinars on how to make the most of your #YallaVote x NVRD event; packaging and shipping dozens of boxes of #YallaVote swag; promoting our partners and their events on social media; and reminding eligible voters to register for, and cast ballots during, their states’ upcoming elections.
KGC: Do you have any specific story or example of how engaging in this work has made a tangible difference in the lives of people that you serve?
OB: The results of our #YallaVote program aren’t just anecdotal, they have genuinely changed people’s outlook on their role as members of our democracy. Some of the most inspiring stories to come out of the work our #YallaVote field organizers are leading in Michigan, Massachusetts, and Florida often involve members of the Arab American community who have felt too alienated or discouraged to engage in the democratic process, only to have their minds changed after speaking to, and connecting on a personal level with, our organizers. One such example recently happened in Florida. At a community faith center, our organizer spoke with an Arab American woman who had never voted before and stated she had no interest in voting at all. After interacting with our volunteers and organizers, the unregistered potential voter had a change of heart, took a registration form, and then sat down at the table and began asking patrons herself if they were registered to vote so they could make a difference in their community! Our hope with our year-round #YallaVote efforts, and especially with our NVRD collaboration, is that every volunteer will have an experience during which they connect with potential voters and help them appreciate the principle that democracy is a year-round commitment that requires everyone’s participation in order to function at its full potential.
KGC: Anything else you’d like to add about your voter engagement efforts?
OB: Be sure to follow our events using the hashtag #YallaVoteXNVRD and #YallaVote. We’re excited to promote the excellent work of our partners and supporters as we join thousands of other partners across the United States to make this year’s elections accessible to as many eligible voters as possible.
Learn more about how your organization can get involved in National Voter Registration Day at nationalvoterregistrationday.org.