NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Thursday, August 2nd, 2018

LIVE from New Orleans: Activists discuss teaming up to improve voter engagement

Welcome back to our live coverage of Netroots Nation 2018, taking place in the storied city of New Orleans, Louisiana!

The first panel I attended today was a discussion centered on successful coalition-building and voter engagement here in the Pelican State, with lessons and examples of how activists can be successful in other communities.

The panel was moderated by Ashley Shelton, Executive Director of The Power Coalition, the group that was created by the panelists to work together on issues. Each panelist leads their own organization working on specific issues, but they realized that they had more power and could make more progress on their issues if they worked together and supported each other on their issues.

Andreanecia Morris is from the Greater New Orleans Housing Alliance and Housing NOLA. Their work started after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, making sure people could come home to New Orleans. Their activism has continued as they try to address the growing affordability crisis in the city — a problem Pacific NW cities also have.

Even though vacancy rates are high with the population still being 200,000 below pre-Katrina population levels, rents are still rising as luxury apartments are being built and property owners charge as much rent as they can.

Morris notes it is a lack of will to address housing affordability, more than anything else, that is causing this issue to continue and grow.

Minh Nguyen is the founder and executive director of VAYLA New Orleans, an organization that was started after Katrina as a new landfill to deal with all the hurricane-created waste was proposed to be located in his neighborhood.

Young people took the lead to fight this specific threat and the larger issue of environmental racism that this landfill was a prime example of.

People told them that the reason the landfill was slated for their community was that “you don’t have any power, you don’t vote.” So some of the first big actions they took was to start registering voters in their community.

Norris Henderson is the founder and director of Voice of the Experienced (VOTE) New Orleans, the offshoot of an organization that he started when he was in prison to change circumstances and improve conditions for people that are incarcerated.

About a year after his release, he started VOTE to address issues that are faced by people that have previously been incarcerated, such as restoring their voting rights. Issues for the formerly incarcerated are especially pertinent in Louisiana, since up until a few months ago, the state had the nation’s worst rate of incarceration.

As we could see, each organization that the panelists represent were each working on different issues. Yet as Henderson noted: “We were always bumping into each other” at meetings and while lobbying at the state Legislature.

“We realized we weren’t getting much done individually. We didn’t have the power structure, alone, that we needed to move the needle.”

So the three of them sat down to try to figure out how they could work together to move all of their issues forward.

“We are stronger together than as individuals,” said Henderson.

“You lose when you are by yourself,” Nguyen said.

“We all work on different issues, but we have the same enemy.”

He talked about how the different groups in the Power Coalition can leverage each other’s strengths and resources in order to be successful.

All the panelists talked about the successes they have had recently in getting city council members the coalition supported voted into office.

In dealing with current issues in the city, Nguyen said: “The council now knows that we voted you in, and we can vote you out.”

They have also started to see success at the state level on their issues. Morris noted how, due to the strength of the coalition, they were able to convince a Republican state legislator to vote against an anti-inclusionary zoning measure.

Nguyen aptly summed up the theme of the panel when he told attendees: “You have to work together to see any kind of success.”

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