More than 25 organizations across Washington joined Inatai Foundation’s Power to the Voter Summit in Vancouver, Washington. The event, which took place from May 31 to June 2, created an opportunity for shared learning, specifically around voter engagement and other political strategies to build community power in support of racial justice and equity.
“We took this cue from grantee organizations, who told us that voter engagement was the central issue of this moment,” said Inatai President and CEO Nichole June Maher. “And while we all care about other political organizing tools and strategies, getting our people to vote is the direction [grantee organizations] wanted to go in. We listened.”
In honor of the event’s location in Vancouver, the Power to the Voter Summit kickoff dinner celebrated the mobilizing power of Southwest Washington’s communities of color, who flipped the third congressional district last November to elect Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez. As Will Miller (Blackfeet/Cherokee) of NAYA Action Fund said, “Our communities make magic happen.” Bethany Barnard (Chinook) of Pacific County Voices Uniting, Bridgette Fahnbulleh of NAACP Vancouver, and Melissa Rubio of OneAmerica Votes also shared stories of their organizations’ efforts toward this historic win.
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Another goal of the summit was to create space for leaders to envision and strategize together. Stories from all corners of Washington poured out as participants engaged with each other between breakout groups and general sessions, surfacing some of the greatest opportunities in our state to ensure power is in the hands of voters.
Manny Rodriguez of Latino Civic Alliance explained the clear difference where he lives between who holds power and who lives according to that power. Manny shared, “We need more representation in small communities. I live in a place with a population of 8,000 people, but the leaders don’t look like members of my community.” He shared that this was a factor in motivating him to run for office in Quincy.
Alaina Capoeman of Native Action Network recognizes that connections to people are a precious resource to tap into when building voter power. “We can build a network of trusted messengers— people who have the trust of the community to spread the word of what’s happening,” she said.
Lin Crowley of Asian Pacific Islander Coalition of South Puget Sound commented that expanded language access is vital to increased civic participation, especially when it comes to voting. “The demographics of Washington are rapidly shifting,” she said. “We cannot afford to assume that English is the only way to access information.” Lin also shared that she’d like to see more women voted into seats of power at all levels across the state.
An important goal of the summit was to ensure community leaders had time to connect with each other and to build relationships. Paul Tabayoyon of Asian Pacific Islander Coalition’s Yakima Valley Chapter was eager to network with like-minded leaders. After hearing about different strategies from other organizations, he said he’d be staying in touch with people working on similar issues. “It would help us to identify who is working in what regions of the state so we can collaborate,” he said.
In spending time together, the leaders reminded each other of the great things they’ve already accomplished statewide. They gathered not only to dream of Washington’s future, but also to celebrate their shared successes over the years and to carve a path forward. Lyle Quasim of The Black Collective said, “Power has been determined by having the ability to make something happen or to stop something from happening. We’ve been doing this since 1976.”
Giovanni Severino with Progreso: Latino Progress shared that he finds these connections valuable and hopes in future gatherings, “that we can invite someone from the communities we serve so we can truly hear their concerns.”
Over the course of the summit, attendees took a journey across Washington through one another’s stories—stories of giving people a political home, cultivating local leadership in community, filing and winning lawsuits on political maps and voter access, electing and holding accountable new leaders, and making plans to do more of this work in solidarity.
Tracy Flood of NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund based in Bremerton offered these words to attendees as the summit came to an end: “Sharing this community space brings us power. Our collaborations make us stronger. The things we can do are just beginning.”
Inatai Foundation would like to thank Nsé Ufot, former CEO of The New Georgia Project, for serving as a guest speaker and facilitator for the summit. We are also grateful to the following partners who made the convening a success: Claudia A’zar (interpreter), Alicia Beatty (interpreter), Mercedes D’Antona (interpreter), Glena White (interpreter), Teysia Parks (graphic designer), Ulysses Curry and Brea Wilson (photographers), Mari Shibuya (graphic recorder), Toyouinspire Flowers (floral design), PopLocal Vancouver (local goods and gifts), Dave Gropper (audio/visual support), and the wonderful staff at Hotel Indigo – Vancouver.