The second biannual UU the Vote campaign cranked up to full throttle in September, working to inspire and empower UUs to defend democracy and advance justice through civic engagement activities in 2022. Along with online skills training sessions, remote phone banking, and texting events focused in twelve critical states, UU the Vote organized in-person events in two states where voting and human rights are most threatened: Michigan and Georgia.
For the “Homecoming Week of Action” in Michigan, UU the Vote Campaign Manager JaZahn Hicks led a week of activity in partnership with the Michigan UU Social Justice Network (MUUSJN), which works to inform and inspire every eligible voter to participate in elections and key ballot initiatives. Events included phone and text banking, social media workshops, and ballot issue organizing training.
Michigan ballot measures include the Right to Reproductive Freedom Initiative, which would embed reproductive rights in the state constitution. Michigan, which currently leads the nation in increased voter registration among people 18–24, is one of at least five states with ballot questions explicitly addressing the right to abortion care.
A second Michigan ballot proposal asks voters to constitutionalize several key voting rights, including the right to vote without harassment or interference, early voting opportunities, and more.
These measures clearly have wide support, and the abortion rights initiative generated a record 735,000 petition signatures, yet Republican election officials voted to keep these initiatives off the ballot based on technical objections. Only a ruling by the Michigan Supreme Court thwarted the attempt and ensured citizens’ right to direct democracy.
Along with MUUSJN, other partners included Michigan Voices, a network supporting progressive BIPOC-led groups, andRed Wine and Blue, a nonprofit mobilizing suburban women. RWB led a “relational organizer” training, meaning reaching out to people you already know to ask about their voting plans, rather than contacting lists of potential voters.
UUtV leader Hicks was then joined by the New Georgia Project and UUA Field and Programs director Nicole Pressley for a four-day blitz through the state. The Georgia legislature made headlines for enacting SB202, which criminalized offering food or water to people forced into long voting lines. But other provisions in the bill pose more serious threats. They include undermining absentee voting and enabling partisan takeover of county election oversight—power that could be used to disenfranchise voters in heavily-BIPOC communities.
The week started with a rally in Augusta, Georgia, which included speeches by local activist Traci George, youth organizer Elle Garcia, and Ade Nicholls from the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights. From there, UU the Vote traveled to the UU Congregation of Gwinnett in Lawrenceville to make calls and write letters with local volunteers to voters across the state. The week concluded with the UU Fellowship of Athens hosting an event that combined live music with phone banking and a forum to engage people as poll workers.
When asked about the importance of training for phone and text banking, and how to make those contacts effective, Hicks said, “asking a question is key to creating engagement and commitment.” Of course, it’s now easy to text people en masse, but Hicks emphasizes the necessity of volunteer outreach: “when they know the message is coming from a real person, contacts are more effective.”
Additional in-person organizing events in Arizona and Pennsylvania will supplement the steady flow of online UU the Vote events as the campaign moves to achieve 4 million voter contacts by Election Day.
UU the Vote is a nonpartisan civic engagement initiative that brings to life Unitarian Universalism’s Fifth Principle of using the democratic process within our congregations and the world. One tool for achieving the goal of four million contacts, the Good Trouble Congregations program, is off to a rousing debut, with 64 congregations participating across thirty-four states. Together, they’ve hosted fifty postcard and letter-writing events, thirty-two phone and text banks, and sixteen live rallies.
There’s a real hunger for personal connections in this election cycle after the largely remote organizing work during the height of the pandemic in 2020. “There’s excitement on the ground and we are leveraging that excitement to build power in those communities,” says Hicks. “We’re giving people the opportunity to work, bring people together, get outdoors, and plan fun as part of the event.”
The UU the Vote team invites you to learn more, get involved, and support the campaign as part of our ongoing work toward creating a more just society.