In the wake of the shooting death of Michael Brown and the protests that followed in Ferguson, Mo., two organizations have launched an online campaign to mobilize young African-Americans and Latinos across the nation to change their communities through voter participation.
Voto Latino, which works to bolster voter participation among young Latinos, has partnered with Russell Simmons’ Global Grind for the campaign, called United We Win. They seek to leverage the experience of partner PolicyLink in building what they call “black-brown connections” in local communities and the social pull of celebrities like Rosario Dawson and Simmons to help spread their message.
The United We Win initiative has a track record of success as a voter registration movement fueled by controversial news.
In 2010, United We Win was organized in response to the hardline Arizona immigration law SB 1070 and registered more than 10,000 voters in four weeks.
This time around, the groups are shining a spotlight on issues they say Ferguson brought out into the open, including lack of representation in local government, profiling and excessive use of force by police.
The make up of Ferguson’s city government came under scrutiny recently after local protestors said they did not feel represented by their elected officials. The mayor and five of the six members of Ferguson’s city council are white, while 67% of the population is black.
Maria Teresa Kumar, president and CEO of Voto Latino, said Ferguson was one example of what can happen when there is lackluster participation in local elections. She said that while 54% percent of African-American voters in Ferguson turned out for the 2012 presidential elections, only 6% voted in the last municipal elections.
“If [officials] are not elected democratically, meaning that they’re not elected by maximum participation, you’re going to have friction in your local community,” Kumar said. “Ferguson was, I think, the most extreme possibility that happens when you don’t have representation…they just didn’t quite understand the community and the uproar or why that was caused,” she said.
Michael Skolnik, the president and editor-in-chief of Global Grind and board member for the Trayvon Martin Foundation says he has worked closely with Martin’s parents, who were in Missouri Sunday, to bring attention to problems with the way police interact with young black men.
“We’ve seen the death of so many young men of color over the past two decades,” he said, naming Brown, Martin, and two Latinos, Andy Lopez and Alex Nieto, who were also shot dead by police in two different incidents in northern California in the past year. “But I think what’s coming out of Ferguson is there’s a reinvigorated voice of young people that we have to uplift.”
Kumar added that the most effective way the groups could do that was to get more young minorities engaged in local leadership.
“It’s important that they organize, that they march, that they rally,” she said, “but the only way they’re going to change the system is for them to participate; Not just to vote, but to look amongst themselves and say, ‘Who is the next leader within our community that can take the reign and represent us best?’”