Raven Douglas, junior political science major and honors student, spent this summer knocking on college and university students' doors across San Antonio to convey one crucial message: local politics matter and impact our everyday lives. Douglas is a UTSA leader who hopes to increase political involvement and voter turnout for millennials. Thus fall she is interning at America Votes in Washington, D.C., through the Archer Fellowship Program. Douglas is a fellow for MOVE San Antonio, a nonprofit that focuses on mobilizing and organizing college students to engage in democracy and the voting process. UTSA alumni founded MOVE San Antonio. Today, the organization is led by UTSA alumni and students. In this conversation, Douglas shared how the MOVE SA team is fiercely revolutionizing voter engagement in the city.
Why did you choose voter engagement as the issue to invest yourself in?
Voter engagement makes me feel that I am making an impact because young adults tend not to vote. Even after they changed the voting age from 21 to 18, young adults keep being marginalized as a low-turnout voting group and I want to help them understand their place in this process and encourage them to acknowledge their right to vote.
Do you have a specific approach for engaging young voters in the San Antonio community?
Yes, it’s simple. My peers and all college students need to hear and feel that their voice matters. It matters, no matter what is a person’s political education, affiliation or beliefs. Being aware of the environment, the audience and the outreach strategy in each activity we do helps me make a better connection with people on the ground, and allows me to engage in productive conversation.
What are the major barriers for engagement that you have encountered?
Voting barriers in Texas are inherent and systematic. The need for voter IDs, the limited mail-in ballot and complex forms to register, make this process overwhelming and disenchanting for young voters who are accustomed to immediacy. Texas is a one-party state where progressive young adults feel their issues and voices do not matter and are not reflected in their public leaders. The lack of voter education in Bexar County is alarming. Every year there are more people that do not know how, when or where to go vote, nor how to remain involved in this process. Lastly, Bexar county can and should be doing more, such as, pursuing an online voter registration form for its residents like other counties have already implemented, or providing a simple Spanish registration card.
Texas was second to last in voter turnout during the primaries, what are you and MOVE SA doing to change this for the November election?
We are being ambitious and intentional about our goals. In 2013, we increased voter registration for city elections by 400 percent, and our goal for this November is to register 10,000 students amongst all college campuses in the city. As of date we have 3,101 registered voters! We also do the hard but rewarding field work, we block-walk and table three to five times every week. We stay away from preaching about the importance of voting, and instead grab a clip board and canvass on a campus, host national voter registration days, or do class visits where we register students on the spot. Our strategies also reflect the urgency of the moment and we know that by not voting at all, people are voting for someone they really do not want to elect.
How do you encourage UTSA students to join your effort?
UTSA is the largest student community campus in San Antonio, and we want to make active political participation the norm. On a yearly basis we work with close to 60 UTSA volunteers for our get out the vote efforts. We also celebrate our accomplishments by having block gatherings so that students feel rewarded for their participation and effort. Our class visits are probably the most successful for student at-large response. Professor Henry Esparza allows our group to register students in his class. Out of the 350 student-audience, we usually get 70 students registered in less than an hour. These are all great opportunities to start relationships with our UTSA peers, and our hope is to keep the numbers up while building meaningful relationships with faculty and the student community.
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Community Connect magazine is an annual publication produced by the Office of the Vice President for Community Services (VPCS). The mission of Community Services is to extend UTSA beyond its campuses into San Antonio and South Texas through public service, extension, outreach and community education. This mission is accomplished through a variety of programs and initiatives, some of which are showcased on this website.