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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