When enough people make a stand for what they believe in, political changes are inevitable. It takes passionate individuals to make up groups of passionate change-making organizations. Influential organizations such as Headcount demonstrate how to indiscriminately integrate citizens into the nation's political system and successful campaigns like Save Trestles show us the results proper organization can have.
Who Is Headcount?
Headcount, a non-partisan organization, created a platform where individuals can learn how to be a part of the political system in the United States by assisting them in the registering and voting process. Their outreach efforts connect people to valuable information needed to vote for what they believe in. In the US, valuable voters are being pushed out of the system, being silenced, and left behind in the political arena. Headcount has made it their mission to integrate as many people as possible into the voting process by being present at festivals, music events, community gatherings, and online where they present information and register voters. Over one million voters gained a voice by registering to vote through the efforts of Headcount.
What Happens When People Are Mobilized
Thousands of people united by their passion to protect land valuable to them, natural ecosystems, neighbors and culture are the reason why the Save Trestles Campaign was wildly successful. A toll road consisting of six lanes was proposed to carve its way through essential watersheds, sacred Indigenous land, and protected wildlife habitats while damaging San Onofre and Trestles Beach. Without the power of voting and organizing, filled with passionate people, such as Dina Gilio-Whitaker and Steve Long, that toll road would have decimated, both culturally and environmentally, significant land and water landscapes. The fight went on for over a decade and each year people came together to fight for what they believed in again and again.
Through The Lens Of Environmental Justice
Environmental justice is an umbrella term used to describe how marginalized communities are disproportionately affected by irresponsible environmental decisions, practices, and policies. We see high-risk community members and groups being pushed out of decision making processes while they are most negatively affected. In the conversation of environmental justice and voting rights, we cannot fail to acknowledge Indigenous groups, and the impact on African American and Latinx communities as well.
Indigenous culture and sacred Indigenous sites have been nearly obliterated since American colonialism took over in the 17th century.1 Fortunately, we have seen strong resilience in native communities in addition to growing organizations supporting their fight for surviving and reviving. The Save Trestles Campaign is an example of people coming together not only for the environment but also in support of sacred Indigenous heritage.
Ways Voting Can (And Has) Impact
Governor Newsom signed AB 1426 into law in August 20202 in response to the outpouring of community support for the Save Trestles Campaign. This directly supported protection of environmental sustainability, and sacred cultural values. Voting for political leaders who will make the stand for environmental and social causes is essential for a healthy, inclusive future.
Another successful group fighting for equitable, impactful change is the League of Conservation Voters (LCV). They center around the cohesive understanding that environmental status and democracy are inextricably linked, along with equitable access to clean resources. With the power of voting, LCV has aided in electing 73 senators and 330 House of Representatives since 1994.
Voting For The Environment, Voting For Equality
Environmental justice has racial and cultural equality at its core. Prior to the year 1965, the United States lacked active legislation protecting equal access to voting. The Voting Rights Act3 was signed into law by then-President Lyndon Johnson to protect marginalized voters. Voting restriction is an active practice by oppressors to silence voices because they are aware of the power voting has in our county. To fight oppressive practices, make your way to the polls.
The Bureau of Environmental Justice4 was established in California in 2018 and expanded in 2021 with the support of Attorney General Bonta. The department focuses on protecting disadvantaged communities from harmful development and pollution; another example of how electing political officials can make lasting changes for people who need it most.