Launched in 2020, the first UU the Vote campaign exceeded all our expectations by engaging more than 5,000 volunteers from 450 UU congregations who collectively contacted more than 3 million potential voters. Those contacts included voter registration, issue education, get-out-the-vote drives, and more, focused in the states with the most pivotal elections of ballot questions impacting core UU values.
Partnerships with community organizations, many of which served and were led by young adults and people from Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities, were crucial to that initial success. So this year, the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Organizing Strategy Team (OST) is again activating those core outreach activities while adding investment to build durable organizing capacity. The new 2022 UU the Vote Legacy Fellowship is an investment in that long-term capacity by supporting the development of talented leaders.
Partnering with the UU College of Social Justice (a joint project between the UUA and UU Service Committee), the fellowship provides six UU-affiliated young adults and BIPOC individuals with funds, consultation expertise, and a network to advance projects over a six-month span that the fellows themselves conceived. Here’s a glimpse at the work some of the 2022 fellows are pursuing, ranging from traditional grassroots organizing methods to creative experiments to inspire change.
Claudia Marshall transitioned from a career teaching social studies in the Jacksonville, Florida, public schools to activism with her congregation, Buckman Bridge UU Church. She’s leading Buckman to become one of the first Good Trouble Congregations—reaching a series of UU the Vote benchmarks for community outreach to register people to vote and engage in the democratic process this year.
Partnering with the UU College of Social Justice (a joint project between the UUA and UU Service Committee), the fellowship provides six UU-affiliated young adults and BIPOC individuals with funds, consultation expertise, and a network to advance projects over a six-month span that the fellows themselves conceived.
Claudia’s project also includes organizing a series of public forums, using guest speakers and films to attract people and inspire conversations that deepen community understanding of key justice issues.
Shaya French of Boise, Idaho, is researching and interviewing people involved with the mental health crisis response teams created as an alternative to police intervention in many cities. This research informs Shaya’s fellowship project of writing about early results from those response teams and storytelling about what could change for the better if we embraced alternatives to our current policing paradigm.
Many of us would struggle to describe a world without prisons and police as we know them today, which creates an obvious barrier to persuading others that a safer and more humane paradigm is possible. “If we can’t imagine something different, we can’t move towards it,” says Shaya. Hir fellowship involves both spreading the concept of visionary fiction and providing support for those inspired to pursue such writing.
Marissa Gutierrez-Vicario of Brooklyn, New York, uses similar language to describe her project, but visual art is her medium. “Art gives people a space to reimagine the world,” says Marissa. She believes art is a key tool for building momentum for human rights and racial justice, among other causes. Marissa is a visual artist in residence at the Columbia Center for Contemporary Critical Thought, while also teaching courses like Protest and Art at City College of New York. Her curriculum explores questions like, “How can public art be used to cultivate global understanding and human rights education among young people?”
Marissa’s project recruits BIPOC youth, ages 13–18, from communities nationwide—many of whom have little to no access to arts or art education. Using visual arts projects as a springboard, the program gives young participants agency through the act of art creation. The arts element flows into broader training for this generation of potential young community organizers.
LM Davis, of Dayton, Ohio, is adapting the traditional organizing tool of door-knocking to achieve deeper change, rather than just immediate mobilization. Deep canvassing involves listening to understand what issues most concern the conversation partner and the personal experiences that underlie those concerns. The process emphasizes long-term cultural shifts rather than the electoral mindset of attempting immediate persuasion.
LM brings skills developed with the New Conversation Initiative, where she serves as a canvass manager. Her UU the Vote fellowship project will lead two rounds of training and canvassing events in Ohio, with partners from the Miami Valley UU Fellowship. The project goal is to emerge with twenty to fifty people skilled and comfortable in initiating deeply honest and personal communications about values and voting.
Albie Johnson is an award-winning poet active in her second year of a commissioned lay ministry program with the UUA and the UU Congregation of Fort Myers, Florida. Albie also is the BLUU (Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism) Haven Coordinator for her region in Southwest Florida—at the epicenter of Hurricane Ian’s destruction—where her UU the Vote project, “race, religion, and politics in poetry and spoken word,” is focused.
Albie works with fellow congregation members to stage a local event with the goal of inviting and inspiring people—including those with no poetry experience—to engage in a public reading and community-building event.
UU the Vote principals JaZahn Hicks and Nicole Pressley both report excitement about results from the initial months of the fellowships and offer gratitude for the generous donors who enabled this investment in building UU organizing capacity. They expect to build on this year’s results to renew the fellowship program in 2024.