Rock the Vote is the largest nonprofit and nonpartisan organization in the United States driving young people to the polls, and it has existed for more than 25 years. By drawing on pop culture, music, art and technology, Rock the Vote’s mission is to simplify and demystify voter registration and elections for young people. From creating PSAs for television, to running bus tours around the country and advocating for legislation that made voter registration easier, the organization has been both a historic and groundbreaking in its approach to encouraging participation.
Mi Familia Vota is a nonprofit organization that integrates local organizing, leadership development, advocacy, and building broad community partnerships surrounding local, state, and federal elections. Started more recently than Rock the Vote, the organization has offices in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Nevada, and Texas. Mi Familia Vota’s efforts revolve around voter registration, but more broadly around social and economic issues that impact the Latino community like immigration, education, healthcare workers’ rights, climate change and the environment, and voter rights.
In comparing these organizations we seek to conduct our own interviews, as well as utilize information and various forms of media published by the organizations themselves and other outlets. We will define youth as individuals ages 18 to 34, as the Census Bureau does. Ultimately, it is our goal to compare these two organizations and see where the strengths.
Why Does It Matter to Us? [Why did we choose this case?]
We selected these two organizations for our case because they have similar missions of encouraging political participation among youth and use online spaces to do so, but are different in how they accomplish their objectives.
Rock the Vote is a larger organization with a long history of utilizing celebrity endorsements, concert tours, and cultural icons to promote voting and registration. However, the way this organization encourages participation is ultimately simple––mobilizing people to vote in presidential elections. This focus can be seen on its website, where the two main courses of action people can take from the homepage are registering to vote and signing up for election information. In addition to its website, the organization has been successful in building digital presences on Twitter (68.9K followers), Instagram (16.3K followers), Facebook (126.8K likes), YouTube (2.7K subscribers), Tumblr, and Google Plus (288 followers). Rock the Vote has been able to use media as a platform for fusing culture with voting and expand its digital reach––its #TurnOutForWhat video on YouTube has received over 1 million views to date.
Mi Familia Vota is smaller than Rock the Vote and more targeted in mobilizing the Latino community specifically to participate in the political process. However, its work is broader than voter registration and the presidential election, as “a civic engagement organization that advocates on social and economic issues that impact the Latino community, from immigration to workers rights.” Mi Familia Vota’s website has a variety of calls to action on its homepage, such as registering to vote, volunteering, becoming a citizen, or becoming a member.
While Rock the Vote is more temporal and encourages people to sign up online to “receive election reminders,” Mi Familia Vota encourages people to sign up online to “join the family.” Mi Familia Vota also leverages social media to achieve its objectives, but has much smaller followings on Twitter (5.7K followers), Instagram (302 followers), Facebook (5.1K likes), YouTube (68 subscribers), Tumblr, and Google Plus (19 followers). Where Mi Familia Vota seems to succeed the most is offline when traveling to register voters around the country in innovative ways, such as its initiative to provide voter registration forms at taco trucks in Texas this election.
We believe the differences between these two organizations––namely size, digital reach, and the ways they mobilize people––will provide for a fascinating comparative study and insight into how to most effectively engage people in movements around voter registration. We are also personally interested in this topic, as Avika spent last summer working on GOTV initiatives at Google and has met a member of Mi Familia Vota, while Jonah interviewed the President of Rock the Vote for an article he wrote for the Harvard Political Review a few years ago.
A Transmedia Perspective on Voting [Student Paper]
How does this project relate to the course material, specifically youth, media, and participatory politics?
One of the oldest forms of political participation, and arguably still one of the most important today, is voting. However, voting has changed enormously over time––including what people can vote for, where people can vote, and who can vote. Most saliently, in this digital age media has increasingly been used to bring more people into the voting process. Since Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008 led to a record level of participation by millennials in a presidential election, there have been determined efforts by campaigns, nonprofits and private actors in subsequent elections to mobilize young, first-time voters. In this way, we believe examining the efforts of GOTV organizations that use media to enable youth participation is relevant and will fit well with the themes of this course.
Furthermore, in this course we examine participatory politics through the lens of the YPP Action Frame. We believe our case will enable us to see how different organizations can successfully achieve certain aspects of the YPP Action Frame. While Rock the Vote, a larger organization, may have relative strength in making its movement easy and engaging, Mi Familia Vota, a smaller but identity-based organization,may have a strength in helping potential participants understand why it matters to them. Therefore, this case is relevant to the predominant framework we use in this course.
Lastly, in the third session of this course we learned how groups can answer “Why Does it Matter to Me?” by deploying popular culture or by organizing people around a shared sense of identity. We believe Rock the Vote mirrors the case of the Harry Potter Alliance, where an organization deploys popular culture toward political ends and cultivates civic imagination among participants. Mi Familia Vota mirrors the case of the DREAMers, who find connection based on common identity and organize around it. We believe examining organizations that facilitate participation in different ways will broaden our understanding of participatory politics, just as the cases in By Any Media Necessary did.
Our case study aims to answer the central question: What relative strengths and weaknesses do these two organizations have in using voter engagement practices to accomplish their overarching missions?
In comparing these two organizations, we believe that the subtle, yet significant distinctions between Rock the Vote and Mi Familia Vota will give them different strengths in mobilizing people and effecting change that correspond with the Youth and Participatory Politics (YPP) Action Frame.
Rock the Vote prioritizes youth political participation, but unlike Mi Familia Vota, it is not as strongly focused on identity or culture. For that reason, we expect the organization to succeed in answering being able to make participation easy and engaging (YPP principle #5), raising voices in a way that counts as political action (YPP principle #8), and getting from voice to change (YPP principle #9). Through lowering the barrier to entry into politics, Rock the Vote will simultaneously try to prove to youth that they do have a voice and political power and that they can impact politics and policies to reflect their priorities and values.
Mi Familia Vota, similar to the case studies we read about the DREAMers, will heavily emphasize cultural identity to galvanize individuals to vote and be politically active. As a result, we expect the organization to succeed in defining why a cause should matter to people personally (YPP principle #1) and in making its movement more than one person (YPP principle #3) -- in order to make people believe in YPP principle #9 -- how do we get from voice to change. Through highlighting shared cultural experiences, Mi Familia Vota will try to foster a strong sense of bonding social capital amongst its members to encourage political action. Communicating in Spanish, making Latino/a identity salient, and focusing on specific issues to Latino/a families appeal to a broader sense of community that aids Mi Familia Vota’s message.
To help guide our comparison of these organizations, we will ask the following questions in our interviews and research:
- How do these organizations use a digital space to lead to an offline activity?
This question investigates how Rock the Vote and Mi Familia Vota rely on digital platforms, online registration forms, email communication, and informative/motivations videos to urge people to go to polls and physically cast a ballot. We will also analyze similarities and differences in how the two organizations use digital spaces, emphasizing how disparities in the two organizations’ digital media presence and strategy reflect varying YPP principles. In approaching this question, this case study will use a sociotechnical perspective and acknowledge the intimate interaction between digital or technological practices and social/human behavior. We are curious to examine how Rock the Vote and Mi Familia Vota use digital platforms and when these organizations work on issue advocacy through offline methods. We plan to explore the organizations’ intentionality behind their decisions, assessing the impact of pursuing a given strategy through digital grassroots efforts as opposed to traditional grassroots tactics.
- How do these organizations see registering to vote and voting itself as practices that blend online and offline activities?
Through studying these two organizations, we will learn how these organizations understand voting and voter registration to be more than a physical or digital enterprise. How do these organizations rely on youth online habits to inform their mobilization efforts? We will examine how Rock the Vote and Mi Familia Vota situate voting within a larger framework, namely participatory politics. As such, voting is just one method of expression, although these organizations underscore its tremendous power, within a wide range of political alternatives. By noting how Rock the Vote and Mi Familia Vota encourage its members to become politically active through voting and other forms of expression, we will learn in what ways the two organizations identify voting with other online and offline political affiliations and actions.
- How do these groups construe themselves as politically focused as opposed to civically minded? Why do these groups draw a distinction? Do we believe that distinction to be true?
Given the disparate notions of identity embedded within the two organizations overall approach, we are curious if there is a difference in how the organizations make sense of themselves. We imagine that Rock the Vote envisions itself as a political entity exclusively -- one that incorporates cultural events but only to serve its politically-minded goals. Mi Familia Vota, however, operates with a broader mission that bridges political and civic interests. They establish allies with schools, businesses, faith groups, media outlets, and community organizations. They ask people “to join the family” when signing up. In short, it’s presented as a more personal, less political organization. Yet, we will also investigate to see whether this distinction truly exists and when the organizations choose to emphasize the political over the civic or personal and vice-versa.
Relevant Theoretical Frameworks
Relevant Theoretical Frameworks
To answer the above questions, we will situate our case study within the theoretical perspective of Professor Allen’s flow-dynamics model. To register young people to vote, Rock the Vote and Mi Familia Vota must convince youth to enter the discourse loop and develop political habits and practices. While doing so, the organizations must explain how voting constitutes the logical end point for these individuals and how registering to vote is one part of a larger political process that these individuals are already, and possibly unknowingly, already engaged in through conversations on and off social media. Getting youth to engage in the political discourse through voting is to bring them from the expressive discourse loop into the structural decision-making discourse loop.
That switch requires tremendous persuasion, especially to people apathetic to ‘politics’ or the ‘political system.’ In this way, Mi Familia Vota might have a large advantage over Rock the Vote because its targeted outreach to Latino/a voters enables it to spotlight pressing policy issues, e.g. immigration, being discussed explicitly within that community.Therefore, we compare these groups using the theoretical lens of how the organizations enter the identity formation/expressive flow, versus the structural change/influential flow.
Our Plan for Investigation
Our plan for investigation
To acquire the amount of data required to carry out this investigation, we plan to contact each organization to arrange interviews with staff members from Rock the Vote and Mi Familia Vota. In these interviews, we can ask about voter registration numbers, online and offline strategies, and ongoing campaigns. We can learn about how the two organizations navigate the private and public spheres to make issues appeal on an individual and societal level. We can also analyze other interviews, speeches, and op-eds that members from the two organizations have done. We will examine the organizations’ websites, social media pages, and other content to see how they digitally interact with youth and promote their message. Unfortunately, we cannot directly observe how either organization operates because both are located outside of Massachusetts. Nonetheless, we believe that we should be able to obtain sufficient data to carry out the project and leverage the fact that voter registration is a very relevant topic this fall.
What We Discovered So Far
This information centralizes and synthesizes what we’ve learned from an in-depth examination of Rock the Vote and Mi Familia Vota’s online presences. We have interviewed Mi Familia Vota and included information from the interview in the following notes. We hope to interview Rock the Vote soon, and are currently in contact with them about doing so. Once we’ve completed both interviews, we will have more information and a greater understanding of how to compare the two. We will use the information we have compiled to understand our central question: What relative strengths and weaknesses do these two organizations have in using voter engagement practices to accomplish their overarching missions?
YPP principle comparisons
Principle 1: Why does it matter to me Rock the Vote
Rock the Vote
- Tell youth to vote because of the specific issue that matters to them, e.g Turn Out for X Cause or #BettaVote , instead of one general cause
- Emphasize significance of issue-specific voting
Mi Familia Vota
- Emphasizes Latino heritage
- Proposed solutions are deeply-based within communities
- This approach is more organic because MFV operates within communities and on issues that relate directly to members of these communitie
- Success stories
- A volunteer/canvasser at Nevada office and turned 18 this year and became US citizen two years ago. He helped his mom become citizen this year and was able to register her to vote. This was the first presidential election they were voting in. They voted first day of early voting in Clark county on Oct. 22. When he talks about why he’s doing this he says it’s deeply rooted in the concept of family
- Volunteer in Colorado who was a young student has been profiled a couple of times in the media already. Her family is undocumented and registered to vote. She’s been helpful in citizenship work and voter registration work. She was invited for a Cinco de Mayo event at White House and introduced Obama and Biden and told her story
Principle 3: About more than myself
Rock the Vote
- Emphasize the significance of voting through YouTube videos (usually celebrities stating how important it is to vote
- Examples include partnership with millennial fashion icon and model Kendall Jenner and rapper Ty Dolla $ign
- Support democracy through voting
- Grounds all activities in the power of young people; created many specific hashtags to make salient youth identity
Mi Familia Vota
- Frame issue as family, also using YouTube and celebrity partnerships
- Examples include partnership with Orange is the New Black’s Diane Guerrero
- Local staff (almost 100%) were Latinos, pride themselves in Latino identity/heritag
- Local in scope within 6 states; grassroots infrastructure; community education
Principle 5: Easy and Engaging
Rock the Vote
- Rock the Vote appeals people by using musical, film, and popular cultural approaches
- Rock the Vote makes it easy and engaging to participate by having signup forms on their homepage, having a clear “ask”
Mi Familia Vota
- Partnerships with Spanish media to speak to people in their preferred languages
- Distributes Join the Family cards during the election season and Pledge to Vote cards
- Had way for people to text if they needed ride to polls, as well as for updates:
Principle 8: Raising Voice as Political Action
Rock the Vote
- Rock the Vote considers voter registration and voting as political action. Little to no discussion about other potential forms of political action.
Mi Familia Vota
- Mi Familia Vota had a broader definition of what counts as political action that extends beyond voting, to issues of identity
Principle 9: From Voice to Change
Rock the Vote
- Relevant Rock the Vote slogans and tweets include “Don't let your silence ring louder than your voice,” “Complacency is not an option,” “Be the voice of change,” “Vote truth to power”
Mi Familia Vota
- Less tangible outcomes: goal is to give power to latino community – electoral, but also civic – create pipeline of leadership, people that work are members of community, entire families
How do these organizations use a digital space to lead to an offline activity? How do these organizations see registering to vote and voting itself as practices that blend online and offline activities?
Rock the Vote
Website provides ability to register to vote and information about how/where to vote for every state (no real narrative) while social media provides the larger campaign and engagement
- List of voter registration, early voting, and absentee ballot dates and deadlines for every state and territory
- Created software platform to registering to vote online/on tablet/on device
- Hosted interactive, online voting rights rally on the eve of the election with Cornell William Brooks (President and CEO, NAACP), Kristen Clarke (President and Executive Director, Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights), and Ari Berman (Author, Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America)
- “An election eve conversation with our nation's leading voting rights experts to make sure voters have the information they need, know their rights and know what's at stake in this election before they head to the polls. Using Shindig technology, speakers and viewers are able to participate from anywhere they have internet access.”
- Election FM (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ByNxVyOvbYo )
- Exclusive music from various artists only available to be streamed near polling locations
- Most outreach occurs through social media platforms and email blasts
Mi Familia Vota
- Believe there is a synergy between what they do in the field and what they do online
- Home page is very different than Mi Familia Vota’s in that it promotes issues –– workers’ rights, education, environment, healthcare, immigration, voting rights
- Social media has less engagement but their justification is that MFV members are ver diverse––social media is part of youth strategy, while grassroots methods are for older members
- MFV representative believes that digital organizing is becoming big part of what any organization is doing, especially when looking at information that could be sensitive in nature. Being able to provide info and context online helps keep their community informed.
- Purpose is to build latino power and keep electorate/community engaged and informed about what’s happening
How do these groups construe themselves as politically focused as opposed to civically minded? Why do these groups draw a distinction? Do we believe that distinction to be true?
Rock the Vote
- $4.5 million campaign to increase millennial participation in 2016 election called #TruthToPower that “aims to register an additional 2 million young voters before November and help drive turnout of voters under 30 in targeted battleground states.”
Mi Familia Vota
- Civic engagement is necessary component especially in the Latino community -- gaps in political representation, gaps in having a seat at the table.
- Hard to separate those two as far as the work that they do. At end of the day it’s about creating political power within communities exercised through multiple forms: through elections, through policies that promotes healthy.
Appendix of Interview Questions
- What makes Rock the Vote/Mi Familia Vota different from other organizations that work on voter registration?
- How do you conceptualize the role of corporate/organizational/celebrity partnerships?
- What were your goals entering this election cycle? Do you believe you were able to achieve them?
- How do you make this cause matter to people on an individual level, but also make it about more than just one person?
- How do you make it easy and engaging for people to participate? Is it through social media?
- Aside from voting, what other ways do you consider your members to be politically active?
- How does the mission of your organization influence your outreach strategies and priorities when it comes to voter registration and voting practices?
- What would you say was your most successful avenue for mobilizing voters, and what aspect of it allowed it to succeed? Is there a specific story you can share that demonstrates this?
- How do you conceptualize the role of corporate/organizational/celebrity partnerships?
Civic versus Political
- How do you understand voting as being part of your overarching mission to advocate on social and economic issues that impact the Latino community? (MFV only)
- Would you say that you were able to successfully turn out and register voters (if so do you have #s yet)? How much of your goal was also about education and encouraging civic participation year-round?
- We noticed that your organization seems to use both online and offline initiatives to mobilize voters. Can you tell us more about your digital (YouTube, Twitter, celebrity endorsements, etc.) and on-the-ground strategies (voter registration @ taco trucks, etc.), and did your focus change as the campaign season went on?
- In what ways does your online strategy/campaign mirror or differ from your offline strategy/campaign or vice-versa? Or, are they so interrelated that there is no substantive difference?
Mi Familia Vota Only:
- How do you try to motivate MFV members and Latinos in general to participate in your organization?
- How much of your success in mobilizing voters, or other issue areas you work on, results from heavily focusing on Latino identity and common culture?
- What are your strategies that explicitly target youth? Do those tend to be more online or offline? Why?
Rock the Vote Only:
- How does having millennials/young people as your target audience make it difficult to reach them? How do you specifically tap into that?
- How do you try to motivate millennials to participate in your organization?
Discussion and Conclusion
Our case study explores how two different Get Out The Vote (GOTV) organizations, Rock the Vote and Mi Familia Vota, attempt to mobilize youth to participate in politics by registering them to vote. Specifically, we aim to answer the central question: What relative strengths and weaknesses do these two organizations have in using voter engagement practices to accomplish their overarching missions?
We became interested in this topic given its timeliness this fall against the backdrop of the 2016 election. Voting is one of the oldest forms of political participation, and arguably still one of the most important today. However, voting has changed enormously over time––including who can vote, where they can vote, and what they can vote for. Most saliently, in this digital age offline practices are being increasingly blended with online ones to bring more people into the voting process. Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign made history in both its use of social media and the record number millennials it was able to bring into the political process. Since then, there have been even more determined efforts by campaigns, nonprofits and private actors in subsequent elections to use a transmedia approach of integrating online and offline practices to mobilize young, first-time voters. We believe that these efforts do indeed exist in the realm of participatory politics––the “point where participatory culture meets political and civic participation.”1 Thus, we find voting interesting to examine within this participatory context.
We selected these two specific organizations for our case because they have similar missions of encouraging political participation among youth and use online spaces to do so, but are different in how they accomplish their objectives. Founded in 1990, Rock the Vote is the largest nonprofit and nonpartisan organization in the United States driving young people to the polls. By drawing on pop culture, music, art, and technology, Rock the Vote works to simplify and demystify voter registration and elections for young people. Founded in 2000, Mi Familia Vota is a nonprofit organization that integrates local organizing, leadership development, advocacy, and building broad community partnerships surrounding local, state, and federal elections. With offices in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Nevada, and Texas, Mi Familia Vota’s efforts revolve around voter registration, but more broadly around social and economic issues that impact the Latino community like immigration, education, healthcare, workers’ rights, climate change and the environment, and voter rights. With differences in size, digital strategies, and ways in which they mobilize youth, we believe these two organizations provide for a fascinating comparative study and insight into how to most effectively engage people in movements around voter registration.
To answer our central question about the relative strengths and weaknesses of these organizations, we explore three sub-questions. Firstly, we examine how these organizations use a digital space to lead to an offline activity––both rely on digital platforms, online registration forms, email communication, and informative videos to drive people to the polls to physically cast a ballot. To answer this, we compare Rock the Vote and Mi Familia Vota along the axis of five specific principles of the Youth and Participatory Politics Project’s Action Frame: YPP Principles #1, 3, 5, 8, and 9. Principles #1 (Why does it matter to me?), #3 (How do I make it about more than myself?), and #5 (How can we make it easy and engaging?) all involve getting members to participate. Principles #8 (Does raising voice count as political action?) and #9 ( How do we get from voice to change? ) focus on the impacts and characteristics of participation. These five principles best illuminate the relative strengths and weaknesses of these organizations and are at the heart of how they use voter engagement strategies to accomplish their objectives. Secondly, we ask how these organizations see registering to vote and voting itself as practices that blend online and offline activities. Their actions are exemplary of this transmedia perspective––recognizing the inescapable link between digital practices and human behavior. Third, to understand the ability of these organizations to accomplish their goals, we ask how they fit into the Professor Danielle Allen’s flow dynamics model, specifically the discourse loop where each organization operates.
In order to conduct our investigation, we relied upon a mixed methods approach. We firstly used information accessible online, notably the two organizations’ web sites, their social media sites and affiliated channels, as well as news articles about their campaigns, strategies, and actions. We then contacted each organization to interview members of the leadership team.
We began with a content analysis of Rock the Vote and Mi Familia Vota’s social media accounts and websites. This included examining the themes, slogans, hashtags, and multimedia used by the respective organizations to amplify its message. We also compared how successful the organizations were in engaging users through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube based on basic metrics, e.g. likes, retweets, views, comments, and shares. While not systematically organized, we sought to identify common patterns among the various posts that aligned with the selected YPP Principles.
We were then able to interview both organizations. First, we completed a 45-minute interview with Mi Familia Vota’s Communications Director––Anna Castro Argueta, National Field Director––Francisco Heredia, and Associate Director of Research and Data––Samantha De La Fuente. We then interviewed Rock the Vote’s Director of Civic Technology and Policy––Jen Tolentino–– for 30 minutes. We recognize that the views expressed by the representatives we interviewed, especially in the case of Rock the Vote as a larger organization, may not reflect the opinions of everyone in that organization. However, their responses provided very useful insight into the two organizations’ operations, goals, and missions.
Principle 1: Why does it matter to me?
Rock the Vote and Mi Familia Vota diverge in their approaches to making participation matter to their respective audiences. Specifically, Rock the Vote casts a wider net, drawing on popular culture to engage as many millennials as possible in the voting process. Mi Familia Vota, on the other hand, is narrower in emphasizing Latino heritage and identity to make its cause matter.
Since its founding in 1990, Rock the Vote has used popular culture––namely PSAs and music videos featuring popular celebrity influencers––to make its message resonate with millennials. One of its most widely-received efforts was the video “#TurnOutForWhat,”2 an adaptation of the popular Lil Jon song “Turn Down For What” created to encourage participation in the 2014 U.S. midterm elections. In this video, Rock the Vote enlists Lil Jon, as well as 11 other celebrities of different ages
and genres to call millennials to action.They dance and name issues they are “turning out” for––including education, marriage equality, human rights, prison reform, women’s rights, marijuana legalization, global warming awareness, and racial equality. In between these celebrity comments, a host of issues flash across the screen, calling on the viewers to think about what issues matter to them.
Selecting a variety of celebrities, from Lena Dunham and Fred Armisen to Darren Criss and Sophia Bush, to participate in this video and call on a wide range of issues
is key to the organization’s strategy of appealing to all millennials––there is nothing inherently unifying about the range of issues mentioned. While they do tend to all
appear liberal in nature, Tolentino explained Rock the Vote carefully informs its efforts with polls of millennials across the political spectrum and found that “millennials as a whole tend to lean more progressive... for instance, regardless of political affiliation, more millennials favored gun control.” Thus, this strategy does allow Rock the Vote to establish a loose motivating factor for calling on millennials to vote. With 1.1 million views, the video achieved wide circulation.
Mi Familia Vota’s approach to making participation matter is to emphasize Latino heritage and identity. The organization works deeply within communities in six states, specifically on issues that relate directly to these communities like immigration and workers’ rights. These issues are inherently more tied to one’s identity as a Latino or Latina and his or her personal story.
The strength of these ties quickly became apparent in our interview with Heredia through the anecdotes of Mi Familia Vota members that he was able to share. The first was the story of Yanely Gonzalez, an 18-year-old student and Mi Familia Vota volunteer in Colorado whose family is undocumented. She has been helpful in Mi Familia Vota’s citizenship and voter registration work, as well as in attracting media attention for the organization when she was invited to the White House’s Cinco de Mayo event to introduce President Obama and Vice President Biden and share her personal story.
In an interview with CNN, Gonzalez emphasized that her “ballot is going to count for a lot more” than a single person or election.3 This is because to her, civic engagement and her participation in Mi Familia Vota’s efforts is motivated by making sure that her family stays together.4 Another anecdote Heredia shared is of an 18-year-old male volunteer in Mi Familia Vota’s Nevada office. He became a U.S. citizen in 2014 and was able to help his mother become a citizen in 2016 and register her to vote. The 2016 election was significant to him as the first where both he and his mother were able to participate ––together, they voted early in Clark County on October 22. Thus, this young man’s motivation for volunteering is deeply rooted in his own story of growing up undocumented and becoming a U.S. citizen.
Clear parallels exist between these two organizations and the two highlighted in By Any Media Necessary as examples of YPP principle #1––namely, the Harry Potter Alliance non-profit that promotes literacy, equality and human rights5 and the DREAMers who advocate for legislation granting legal status to young undocumented immigrants.6 As demonstrated above, Rock the Vote mirrors the case of the Harry Potter Alliance by deploying popular culture toward political ends and cultivating one’s civic imagination, the “capacity to imagine alternatives to current social, political, or economic institutions or problems.”7
Mi Familia Vota mirrors the case of the DREAMers, who find a connection based on common identity and organize around it. Ultimately, both Rock the Vote and Mi Familia Vota’s methods of answering “Why does it matter to me?” can be defined as successful in different veins. According to Tolentino from Rock the Vote, deploying popular culture resonates best when millennials are not as aware of an election, such as midterms which typically have lower turnout than presidential elections. These efforts also achieve very large viewership. However, deploying a broad range of celebrities to make it matter is less personal than the targeted, albeit less-viral, approach of drawing on specific issues that matter to the community that an organization seeks to mobilize.
Principle 3: How do I make it about more than myself?
Getting people to construe themselves as part of something larger than themselves is essential to the success of both of these groups. Yet, the two offer quite divergent answers to the question. While Rock the Vote emphasizes the collective power of millennials by highlighting the political power of a generation, Mi Familia Vota frames and grounds its issues in terms of the Latino community’s emphasis on family.
Rock the Vote makes three central claims when convincing individuals to think about voting in a broader sense: voting matters and is significant, voting strengthens and vitalizes democracy, and young people as a collective possess great political power. A vast majority of Rock the Vote’s messaging revolves around the deep importance of voting. Rock the Vote often partners with a variety of celebrities, including model Kendall Jenner, rapper Ty Dolla $ign, and pop artist will.i.am, to produce short clips imploring millennials to register to vote. As the tweet below demonstrates, Rock the Vote argues that voting is necessary to preserve a healthy democracy. It encapsulates Rock the Vote’s point that democracy relies upon maximal participation and that in order to ensure that the country is heading in the best direction, everyone must demonstrate their opinion by voting.
Moreover, Rock the Vote reiterates that all voices matter equally on Election Day as method of empowering all identities to feel comfortable and included in the voting process; they imply that a vote cannot, or should not, be discriminated. A similar theme exists in Rock the Vote’s prominent hashtags: #UseYourVote and #PowerUp. We discovered that this strategy requires a great degree of nuance, for Rock the Vote must persuade individuals that voting is simultaneously noteworthy and crucial, yet also easy and quick. That is, Rock the Vote attempts to undersell and oversell the momentousness and commitment to voting. Finally, Rock the Vote bases all its activities and messaging on the collective power of young people. In order to get youths to realize why voting matters to them at the individual level, Rock the Vote enumerates the litany of pressing social issues that people would sufficiently care about in order to vote for that cause.
Following that theme, Rock the Vote reminds young people that they can influence action on the social or political problems they care about if they all choose to vote. Specifically, Rock the Vote’s message relies on a threat that youth inaction will allow older people to seize the void in order to direct the country toward a set of values antithetical to the ones youth hold. Van Jones eloquently summarizes this philosophy in a Rock the Vote clip released in October 2016: “This is probably the most consequential election of the generation, period...And if the young people don’t make the decision, the old folk will be happy to do it.” The logic follows that each individual vote cast will aggregate into one powerful voice that will affect change.
Instead of attempting to harness the power of an age demographic, Mi Familia Vota premises its call to action upon a shared cultural and ethnic identity. The organization explicitly intends to create the experience of familial relations among its members. On its website, signing up to receive emails is an invitation to “Join the Family.” This is articulated by Executive Director Ben Monterroso, when he said in a broadcast of Mi Familia Vota’s “#EstamosUnidos” campaign that in the 2016 election “the Latino community has in our hands the future not only of our families, our community, but our country.”8 Mi Familia Vota often communicates in both Spanish and English to reach as wide an audience as possible while reiterating its commitment to the entire Latino community, as well as how this issue affects all Latinos. On Twitter, Mi Familia Vota consistently uses the hashtag #OrgulloLatino (Latino pride), #PoderLatino (Latino power), or #EstamosUnidos (we are united) to further emphasize a sense of shared ownership, vision, and potential.
Celebrity partnerships, such as that with Orange is the New Black’s Diane Guerrero, are carefully planned to have influencers share their personal journeys with immigration and other Latino-focused issues to, in Guerrero’s words, “really come together as a community and make things happen for [Latinos] and elect people that will represent us.”9 That the local field staff are almost 100 percent Latino in the six states where Mi Familia Vota operates, and that these staff members pride themselves in their Latino identity and heritage, strengthens the notion of family bonded through common ethnicity and culture. With a majority of volunteers and staff between the ages 18 and 29, Mi Familia Vota gains a degree of credibility and relatability when working with schools, community colleges, and universities.
When Mi Familia Vota enlists DREAMers to share inspiring stories of how their parents came to this country, how they have had to overcome the political environment in states like Arizona, Texas, or Nevada, and how they are fighting for Latinos across the country by trying to elect Latino representation, the organization appeals to people’s visceral instincts and affiliations. The ethos of this type of argument is powerful. Furthermore, the grassroots infrastructure that Mi Familia Vota has built is strong in allowing proposed solutions to community problems to emerge from the community itself. As such, it becomes easier for Mi Familia Vota to engage Latino communities, build Latino partnerships, and mobilize Latinos on its six key issues––worker’s rights, education, environment, healthcare, immigration, and voting rights.
While the two organizations generally employ distinct strategies to address YPP Principle #3, both consistently rely on a belief that voting is the best way to make a collective voice heard. Rock the Vote can certainly harness its celebrity partnerships and message about the power of young people to make people believe in participation as more than just themselves. However, by nature it would have more difficulty persuading its members to view participation in this light than would Mi Familia Vota because of its attempts to capture a more diffuse, diverse set of interests. Mi Familia Vota struggles less with this issue because of its grassroots structure and precise focus on the Latino community. Its focus starts with developing leadership program pipelines within communities and building programming to educate communities. Therefore, Mi Familia Vota can frame its focus and message according to the needs and desires of the communities where it has established partnerships. Accordingly, solutions naturally develop from both the community and the organization.
Principle 5: How can we make it easy and engaging?
Making participation easy and engaging is another interesting axis of comparison for these two organizations. Rock the Vote makes it easy and engaging firstly by having a clear ask––that millennials register to vote––and the online platform for people to fulfill this request. Secondly, it leverages its network of partners and celebrity influencers. Mi Familia Vota makes participation easy and engaging with its on-the-ground approach and through partnerships with Spanish media.
However, both organizations are similar in also having a layer of mobile technology within their strategies to make the act of voting easy and engaging. Firstly, Rock the Vote makes it easy to participate with its specific orientation around voter registration. According to Tolentino, “A very direct and actionable request is going to be the most effective. When we send an email and say ‘Your deadline to register is tomorrow––click here to register or check if you’re not,’ it gives somebody exactly what to do and on a timeline, and we see a significant increase in registration.” Furthermore, Rock the Vote’s online voter registration platform is an effective tool––the organization was able to surpass its goal of registering 1,000,000 young people in the 2016 election using this platform.
To draw attention to it, Rock the Vote utilized partnerships with theSkimm, a daily news digest, and Save the Day, a digital production company focused on voter information, who both helped emphasize the quick and easy nature of voter registration. Tolentino noted that when Save the Day included a clickable link to Rock the Vote’s registration tool in their videos, it saw a greater spike in registrations than when the link was not included. This underscores the effectiveness of Rock the Vote’s goal to “make it very easy for somebody to take action.” Utilizing its network, which includes the aforementioned partners as well as celebrities like Kendall Jenner, Rock the Vote also effectively makes participation engaging for millennials. For instance, by having Jenner make posts on social media about the importance of voting and voter registration during the 2016 election season, Rock the Vote effectively increased its online reach from its own 18.3 thousand Instagram followers to Jenner’s 70.4 million Instagram followers. This reach is valuable because it taps into Jenner’s built-in following of millennials in a way that is more organic to and engaging for them.
Mi Familia Vota makes participation easy and engaging primarily by bringing information directly to people’s doors––through canvassing, the organization distributes “Join the Family” cards year round and “Pledge to Vote” cards during election seasons. These cards give people both information about Mi Familia Vota’s efforts and the impetus to get involved. Mi Familia Vota relies on this on-the-ground approach, as opposed to one that is heavily focused on social media––while the organization has Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Facebook accounts, it does not have considerably large social media followings compared to Rock the Vote (6K versus Rock the Vote’s 72K followers on Twitter and 357 versus Rock the Vote’s 18.3K followers on Instagram).
A particularly successful on-the-ground initiative of Mi Familia Vota’s was its partnership with Thomas Hull, founder of design firm Rigsby Hull, to hold a voter registration drive at eight taco trucks in Houston, Texas in October of 2016. When explaining the organization’s motivation for this event, Mi Familia Vota’s Texas Director Carlos Duarte said that to make it easy to participate, “We go where people go.”10 In addition to its ground presence, Mi Familia Vota utilizes partnerships with Spanish media to speak to segments of the Latino population for whom Spanish is a preferred language––Heredia explained that the organization noticed a dearth of opportunity to learn about candidates in the Spanish media and sought to fill that void.
While taking largely different approaches to Principle #5, both organizations have mobile strategies to make voting easy and engaging. Namely, on Election Day Rock the Vote created an Election Protection Hotline for people to call if they felt intimidated at the polls. Mi Familia Vota had a phone number that people could text to discover their polling location, as well as a number for those who needed a ride to the polls.
These initiatives are also an example of how these organizations make it easy and engaging to participate because they establish another type of relationship between the organizations and participants––one that is trusting, and that makes it easy to reach people and to secure their vote. Ultimately, Rock the Vote’s strength lies in its clear ask and online registration platform, while Mi Familia Vota makes up for what it lacks in one single message by using on-the ground approaches to make participation easy and engaging.
Principle 8: Does raising voice count as political action?
Prior to discussing how and whether raising voice counts as political action, we must note whether these organizations classify their work as political. Rock the Vote appears to consider voter registration and voting itself as the two political actions involved in its mission. On its social media feeds and website there is little to no discussion about other potential forms of political action, e.g. organizing, petitions, social movements. Indeed, in the aftermath of the election, Rock the Vote posted a long message on its website’s homepage that included the following excerpt: “Just two years from now we will once again decide who lead the House and the Senate. Sooner still, each state and locality will hold elections that deeply impact our communities. Our democracy is strongest when all our voices are heard and our leaders are responsive to those who show up.” The quote identifies how Rock the Vote operates with an unrelenting focus on voting; in essence, it deals with no other political activity.
Yet, Rock the Vote also recognizes that millennials tend to volunteer at a high rate. So, in order to go beyond voting and expand a millennial’s political activity, Rock the Vote will be matching users with info they care about––specifically building out a list of organizations focusing on reform issues that young people prioritize. Rock the Vote understands itself as a matchmaker between young people and local, statewide, and national organizations. For example, Tolentino explained that for the environment Rock the Vote might connect its members with NextGen Climate, or Planned Parenthood for women’s reproductive rights. The idea is to help both the organization and young people build a community to fight for electoral and legislative victories.
Mi Familia Vota, however, has a broader definition of what counts as political action that extends beyond voting. They understand their work to be about civic participation––not necessarily political action in elections. In their interview with us, they emphasized that “civic participation is a crucial part of a well-functioning democracy that goes beyond partisanship and politics.” Thus, Mi Familia Vota understands civic engagement as a necessary component to a successful Latino community. Only through community education, engagement, and leadership training will people be able to resolve the gaps in political representation for Latinos. Heredia added in the interview, “At end of the day it’s about creating political power within communities exercised through multiple forms.” While creating this power most likely occurs through the avenue of elections, it can be accomplished through effecting policies and social norms as well. So, voting can be viewed as the ultimate outcome and achievement of education efforts, that is included within but not exclusive to Mi Familia Vota’s advocacy and work.
For both organizations, however, raising voice counts as political action. Each strives to do more than “make the invisible visible” and drive change beyond visibility.11 Mi Familia Vota and Rock the Vote want people to vote; they want their particular demographic to get to the polls to tangibly alter the election. In 2016, Rock the Vote announced #TruthToPower, a $4.5 million campaign to increase millennial participation in the election, register 2 million young voters, and drive voter turnout in specific battleground states. Mi Familia Vota launched pledge cards to apply a degree of social pressure to get people to vote. For that reason, both organizations repeatedly proclaim that not voting is wasting your voice, implying that your vote is your political voice. They rely upon the same basic premise: To raise one’s political voice, that is to vote, directly leads to political action and political change. They broadcast that message as the fundamental impetus to go cast a ballot. Go speak and impact your future, they proclaim, at the ballot box.
Principle 9: How do we get from voice to change?
Getting from voice to change is crucial for both organizations, who see the aforementioned principles as the foundation for accomplishing this. Yet, Rock the Vote and Mi Familia Vota, while operating in the same Get Out the Vote space, have different end goals and outcomes. Rock the Vote is ultimately focused on mobilizing youth to vote. The implicit message behind each of the organization’s efforts is that making one’s voice heard at the ballot box is what will create change. Relevant Rock the Vote slogans and tweets capture this message, such as “Don't let your silence ring louder than your voice,” “Complacency is not an option,” “Be the voice of change,” and “Vote truth to power.”
In a different vein, Mi Familia Vota’s goal is more comprehensive in advocating for policy on a gamut of issues that impact the Latino community. According to Heredia, Mi Familia Vota seeks to “create political power within communities exercised through multiple forms: through elections, as well as policies that promote healthy communities and democracy.” Thus, voting does matter to Mi Familia Vota, but this is not the only way to accomplish change––nor is voting alone enough to reach that goal. This explains why Mi Familia Vota has year-round members and considers itself a “family,” while Rock the Vote focuses on getting people to register to vote ahead of specific elections.
However, Rock the Vote is ultimately able to accomplish its definition of change in a very concrete way, certainly because of its clear goal but also because it has financial resources, national visibility, and the ability to acquire partnerships with influential celebrities and organizations. In fact, Rock the Vote met its goal to register 1 million voters so early in the election cycle that it decided to increase the target to 2 million halfway through. While Mi Familia Vota is very well known within the communities in which it operates, it is often strapped by a lack of resources to accomplish its wide-ranging goals––according to each representative with whom we spoke, the organization’s key challenge is obtaining funding and all of the complications associated with this.
This is not to say that Rock the Vote does not have challenges of its own––Tolentino explained that closing the civic education gap for millennials and understanding what motivates this demographic are often both difficult tasks––but ultimately, Rock the Vote has the resources and gravitas necessary overcome these obstacles, and has been focused on doing so for over two decades. Thus, while both organizations have different conceptualizations of change and are successful in effecting this change, Rock the Vote as a larger organization is less constrained by resource challenges than is Mi Familia Vota.
Blending the online and offline
As our title suggests, these organizations adopt a transmedia approach to voter registration while simultaneously coordinating online and offline strategies to achieve maximal impact. Although the actual practice of casting a ballot might be considered to be an ‘offline’ action, it is enmeshed within a world of technology that forms and informs the action. To that end, voting must be considered a sociotechnical activity, recognizing the evident interaction between human behavior and technology. From social media to text message updates to exclusive music streams, Mi Familia Vota and Rock the Vote utilize multiple online strategies to complement their offline strategies in order to get people to vote. In fact, registering to vote now can happen online, indicating the true blend of the online and offline.
When navigating to Rock the Vote’s website, the first blaring image invites visitors to register to vote and pledge to rock the vote––as seen in the image below. Rock the Vote developed an Online Voter Registration platform that has registered over 6 million voters to date. Crucially, the resource is accessible via mobile phones, approved by the Presidential Commission for Election Administration, and available in thirteen languages. Rock the Vote offers the software, the platform’s white label tool, and its API to other GOTV partners to use for free. As part of Rock the Vote’s “Election Center,” they list the dates and deadlines for voter registration, early voting, and absentee ballot in every U.S. state and territory along with a lengthy FAQ about all topics related to voting. While Rock the Vote continues to organize on-the-ground voter registration drives, a national bus tour, and election turnout efforts, this tool signifies how the organization understands a modern, i.e. technologically relevant, voter registration strategy.
In addition to the industry standard social media tactics, promotional videos, and email campaigns, Rock the Vote put forth two original ideas that beautifully integrated the online and offline. First, they hosted an interactive, online voting rights rally on the eve of the election with Cornell William Brooks (President and CEO, NAACP), Kristen Clarke (President and Executive Director, Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights), and Ari Berman (Author, Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America) to guarantee “voters have the information they need, know their rights and know what's at stake in this election before they head to the polls.”
Through a partnership with Shindig technology, they hosted the online rally through ten different Facebook live streams, including Eminem’s Facebook Page, the Indigo Girls Facebook page, and the League of Women Voters’ Facebook Page. According to Shindig, just under 30,000 people from 44 states watched and participated in the live stream, and the Rock the Vote Online Voter Rights Rally video received 1 millions views.12 This rally coincided with Rock the Vote’s efforts to assuage people’s fears about voter harassment since the 2016 election was the first election without the full provisions of the Voting Rights Act. In conjunction with the rally, Rock the Vote offered an “Election Protection Hotline” so that people could call a number for help if intimidated. Second, on the day of the election, Rock the Vote launched Election FM,13 which streamed new music from Watsky & Adam Vida, Head and the Heart, and Local Natives. The stream was exclusively available near polling places, requiring people to actually show up and vote to listen to the music. By incentivizing fans of these musicians to go to the polls to hear exclusive music from their favorite bands, Rock the Vote creatively made voting a more ‘fun’ activity. These two innovative approaches demonstrate how Rock the Vote employs a plethora of coordinated transmedia strategies to register voters and compel them to vote.
Mi Familia Vota works to synergize what they do in the field with what they do online to build stronger, more impressive Latino political power. To expand their reach and further inform their supporters along with likely voters or changemakers, Mi Familia Vota coordinates offline and online strategies as complementary pieces. For example, their leadership programs in schools targets a host of issues specific to a local school district, but their Twitter presence unites all the individual actions into a larger, cohesive whole. When Mi Familia Vota organized a voter registration competition with Phoenix area schools, they partnered with television star Diane Guerrero, but in Orlando, Florida they registered over 1,500 students without a major celebrity endorsement promoting the cause. Mi Familia Vota will also attend “Twitter parties” or “Twitter powerhours” that are co-hosted with other civic engagement organizations in Texas, Colorado, California, and Florida to test online engagement strategies and responses to different types of messaging to learn how they can translate that into action and implement it on the ground. In our interview with Mi Familia Vota staff, they reiterated how they understand the online and offline tactics to be in an intertwined, reciprocal relationship.
Mi Familia Vota’s use of a text-message service to reach people and provide them with updates epitomizes its synergistic approach. The organization discovered that many of its members struggled to receive accurate information about voter registration, polling places, and voting times. So, instead of relying on email communication, they began sending text message updates to members that were zip code specific and offered in both Spanish and English––depicted on the right. This technique helps keep the electorate and Latino community engaged and informed about what is happening in their neighborhoods. Text-messaging is instantaneous and reaches people in a more personal way than a tweet, YouTube video, or even email. Thus, texting ties back into Mi Familia Vota’s desire to prioritize community and family values, reinforcing why it matters to Latinos on an individual and group level (YPP Principles #1 and #3).
Applying the flow dynamics model
In her essay “Reconceiving Public Spaces: The Flow Dynamics Model” in From Voice to Influence, Professor Danielle Allen introduced a new conceptual understanding of political discourse. By presenting the public sphere as multiple streams of discourse, Allen distinguishes between two categories: an ‘influential discourse’ that impacts the lives of entire polities and an ‘expressive discourse’ that affects more specific community of expressions.14 Providing a more concrete definition of each term, Allen writes:
As discourse circulates, some of it flows, for a variety of complicated reasons into decision-making mechanisms that have structural consequences, where structural consequences are impacts that produce and reproduce the set of constraints touching all members of a polity. Some discourse does not flow into structurally impactful decision-making mechanisms but serves to constitute communities of meaning at levels other than that of the whole polity. We might designate the former flows as discourse-as-influence and the latter as discourse-as expression.15
Some influential discourses might spark social movements or elect a new President, while some expressive discourses tend to flow through familial, ethnic, or social networks and formal or informal associations. We can apply Professor Allen’s flow dynamics model to better understand how and if Mi Familia Vota and Rock the Vote contribute to the two discourse flows.
First, we should note that both groups primarily operate within the structural decision-making space. To register young people to vote, Rock the Vote and Mi Familia Vota must convince youth to enter the discourse-as-influence loop and develop political habits and practices. While doing so, the organizations must explain how voting constitutes the logical end point for these individuals’ political opinions and how registering to vote is one part of a larger political process that these individuals are already, and possibly unknowingly, engaged in through conversations on and off social media.
Getting youth to engage in political discourse via voting, the defining activity for both organizations, clearly exists within the structural decision-making space. Moreover, the missions of both organizations attempt to solve political and social issues through collective action, which again clearly takes place in the decision-making structures. In many aspects, Mi Familia Vota and Rock the Vote work through the same discourse flows.
However, only Mi Familia Vota appears capable of entering the expressive discourse loop given its ability to shape norms for, collective understandings of, and definitions about citizenship, voting, and voting registration in the communities where it works. Mi Familia Vota solidified a proclamation with 15 school districts across the country to formalize a relationship to improve youth civic engagement in those areas. This work is accomplished through partnerships with local school boards, associations, religious organizations, businesses, high schools, and colleges. Thus, Mi Familia Vota can engage with networks, groups, and organizations to shape what it means to vote and how people discuss its practice.
Participatory politics is often conceived of as activities outside the realm of traditional politics––in fact, it is defined as the point “where political change is promoted through social and cultural mechanisms rather than through established political institutions and where citizens see themselves as capable of expressing their political concerns.”16 Consequently, voting is often excluded from discussions on youth, media, and participatory politics. A key takeaway we sought to provide with this case study is that voting, and specifically efforts to register voters, are indeed part of the realm of participatory politics.
This is because organizations like Rock the Vote and Mi Familia Vota are taking innovative approaches to register voters––making their causes matter and larger than just one person or election, making it easy and engaging to participate, making voice count as political action and more, and then making change out of this voice. Moreover, these organizations are using a transmedia approach––understanding the deep interaction between media, technology, and human behavior as they blend online and offline activities to accomplish their goals.
Another implication of this case study is that Get Out the Vote organizations, while often different in size, nature, and end goal, can learn much from each other’s strengths in order to better reach and register young people to vote. Rock the Vote, as a larger organization with a vast target audience and very clear goal, and Mi Familia Vota, as a smaller organization with a more cohesive target audience and a wider set of goals, have different strengths and weaknesses. However, both are ultimately similar and united in their mission to encourage participation, and it is this common purpose that will serve to strengthen their efforts and contributions to the realm of participatory politics in the future.
1 Henry Jenkins. "Youth Voice, Media, and Political Engagement." In By Any Media Necessary: The New Youth Activism. New York: New York University Press, 2016.
2 Rock the Vote. “Rock The Vote Presents: #TURNOUTFORWHAT.” YouTube video, 3:26. Posted October 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rijpU5yD55I
3 Octavio Blanco. "I'm no 'anchor baby,' I'm Yanely Gonzalez and I'm going to vote." CNNMoney. November 24, 2015. http://money.cnn.com/2015/11/23/news/economy/yanely-gonzalez-anchor-baby/.
4 Mi Familia Vota. “Yanely Gonzalez's message to SCOTUS: 'Keep Our Families Together.'” YouTube video, 0:38. Posted May 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UkYOwHIlFMw
5 Neta Kligler-Vilenchik "“Decreasing World Suck”: Harnessing Popular Culture for Fan Activism." In By Any Media Necessary: The New Youth Activism. New York: New York University Press, 2016.
6 Liana Gamber-Thompson and Arely M. Zimmerman. "DREAMing Citizenship: Undocumented Youth, Coming Out, and Pathways to Participation." In By Any Media Necessary: The New Youth Activism. New York: New York University Press, 2016.
7 Kligler-Vilenchik "“Decreasing World Suck”: Harnessing Popular Culture for Fan Activism."
8 Mi Familia Vota. “Highlights - #EstamosUnidos to Get Out the Latino Vote.” YouTube video, 6:29. Posted September 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8svDlxWs-3Y
9 Mi Familia Vota. “Highlights - #EstamosUnidos to Get Out the Latino Vote.”
10 John L. Mone and Will Weissert. “'Guac the Vote:' Houston taco trucks seek to register voters.” The Big Story. September 30, 2016. http://bigstory.ap.org/article/39ae46332f51404c94028414c210a297/guac-vot... ers
11 "#8 Does Raising Voices Count as Political Action?" The YPP Action Frame. http://yppactionframe.fas.harvard.edu/8-does-raising-voices-count-politi....
12 Shindig, “Case Study: Rock the Vote,” 2016, https://www.shindig.com/case-studies/
13 Rock the Vote. “Rock the Vote presents: Election FM.” YouTube video, 1:01. Published November 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ByNxVyOvbYo
14 Danielle Allen, " Reconceiving Public Spaces: The Flow Dynamics Model ," in F rom Voice to Influence, ed. Danielle Allen and Jennifer S. Light (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015), 184.
15 Allen, “Reconceiving Public Spaces,” 186.
16 Henry Jenkins. "Youth Voice, Media, and Political Engagement." In By Any Media Necessary: The New Youth Activism. New York: New York University Press, 2016.
Individual Reflection [Dua]
Studying Get Out the Vote organizations within the theoretical frameworks of this course has been illuminating and gratifying. Firstly, using Professor Allen’s flow dynamics model as a lens has shown me that while both Rock the Vote and Mi Familia Vota operate in the structural decision-making loop and believe voting is instrumental, both organizations also believe in the innate value of voting and voter registration. We saw this in both of our interviews, as the organizations were confident they had achieved their goals without having final numbers of how many people they registered or drove to the polls. While initially tempted to ask each spokesperson to continually quantify their organization’s impact, I learned that they believe that encouraging participation is a very meaningful end in and of itself. I would have been interested to discuss the innate value of voting more directly with the organizations during our interviews.
Furthermore, this case inspired me to think about my own role as participant and rooted cosmopolitan. Allen and Parham define rooted cosmopolitanism as when a person “understands the value of community and what he acquires from membership in a community,” such that the individual “expands his understanding of self-interest to include preservation of the community from which he takes those benefits.”17 Be it Rock the Vote with young people, or Mi Familia Vota with Latinos, Get Out the Vote organizations mobilize people to believe in the value of their voice and membership in a community––and the responsibility that comes with this. Having volunteered on political campaigns like President Obama’s in 2012 and worked in the digital elections space at Google last summer, I truly admire the work of these Get Out the Vote organizations in cultivating equitable self-interest within young people across the country.
Burning questions I have about the YPP Action Frame questions as they pertain to this case going forward are what participatory politics––and each step in the action frame––will look like in a “post-Trump America.” While nonpartisan, predominant organizations in this space like Rock the Vote and Mi Familia Vota seem to champion progressive and somewhat liberal issues. I wonder if more conservative issues and stances will start to have a more visible voice in participatory politics going forward––and if will leave our echo chambers more often. This would not be a bad thing at all, as I believe that we should understand what matters to people of all backgrounds and those across the entire political spectrum in order to better shape our country and participatory politics.
Ultimately, I am grateful that in working with Jonah (a truly insightful, agreeable, and proactive partner) on this case study I was able to argue for something that I truly believe––that participatory politics as we conceive it can indeed go hand in hand with established political institutions such as voting. In my Week 3 reflection notes, I wrote that “movements should focus more on what ordinary civic minded individuals and political institutions have in common and can achieve together.” Get Out the Vote organizations are the ultimate example of this––by using a transmedia approach, they motivate people to participate and exercise their voice politically, truly closing the gap between voice and influence.
17 Allen, Danielle and Parham, Angel. "Achieving Rooted Cosmopolitanism in a Digital Age." InFrom Voice to Influence, edited by Danielle Allen and Jennifer S. Light, 259. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015.
Individual Reflection [Hahn]
To what extent should voting be considered a voice as opposed to an influence? Although Avika and I did not directly explore this question, it permeates our case study. Presumably voting functions to promote an individual’s voice but also possesses a powerful capacity to pressure politicians, endorse policy positions, and manifest change. Organizations mobilizing constituency groups to vote straddle the dual nature; I would have wished to spend more time researching how Mi Familia Vota and Rock the Vote locate themselves on the spectrum from voice to influence. What are the associated costs of choosing to pursue voice over influence, or vice-versa? Do the two organizations make such nuanced decisions explicitly? Perhaps they prefer to focus on YPP Principle #9 -- how to get from voice to change -- because change is an easier metric to measure with voter registration, e.g. did more people register, did more people vote, did more people engage with our materials and resources, etc.
Based on our research, I wonder how organizations deal with having multiple definitions of ‘we’ when trying to accomplish participatory politics. Rock the Vote in particular tried to coalesce youths with disparate interests to identify with the organization’s message. Accordingly, some teens might consider ‘we’ to mean young people passionate climate change while others could see ‘we’ as those fighting criminal injustice. At what point is the created ‘we’ too broad to have any clear consequences? When does the ‘we’ fall back into an ‘I,’ such that the organization must readdress YPP Principle #3? Again, our research did not address these questions, but they are relevant to any organization, group, or association that tries to aggregate and unify a diverse group of interested parties.
I generally enjoyed this collaborative thinking activity. Usually my greatest concern with any group project is free riding. Fortunately, Avika and I established a strong enough relationship to hold each other accountable and deliver on predetermined tasks. We communicated frequently and had almost identical opinions on how our case fit into the YPP principles. Our dynamic made it easier and smoother to complete the project. Yet, I have no clue if other groups benefited from a positive co-worker relationship, and if they struggled more to create a shared vision for the project.
Henry Jenkins. "Youth Voice, Media, and Political Engagement." In By Any Media Necessary: The New Youth Activism. New York: New York University Press, 2016.
Rock the Vote. “Rock The Vote Presents: #TURNOUTFORWHAT.” YouTube video, 3:26. Posted October 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rijpU5yD55I
Octavio Blanco. "I'm no 'anchor baby,' I'm Yanely Gonzalez and I'm going to vote." CNNMoney. November 24, 2015. http://money.cnn.com/2015/11/23/news/economy/yanely-gonzalez-anchor-baby/.
Mi Familia Vota. “Yanely Gonzalez's message to SCOTUS: 'Keep Our Families Together.'” YouTube video, 0:38. Posted May 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UkYOwHIlFMw
Neta Kligler-Vilenchik "“Decreasing World Suck”: Harnessing Popular Culture for Fan Activism." In By Any Media Necessary: The New Youth Activism. New York: New York University Press, 2016.
Liana Gamber-Thompson and Arely M. Zimmerman. "DREAMing Citizenship: Undocumented Youth, Coming Out, and Pathways to Participation." In By Any Media Necessary: The New Youth Activism. New York: New York University Press, 2016.
Mi Familia Vota. “Highlights - #EstamosUnidos to Get Out the Latino Vote.” YouTube video, 6:29. Posted September 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8svDlxWs-3Y
John L. Mone and Will Weissert. “'Guac the Vote:' Houston taco trucks seek to register voters.” The Big Story. September 30, 2016. http://bigstory.ap.org/article/39ae46332f51404c94028414c210a297/guac-vot... ks-seek-register-voters
Shindig, “Case Study: Rock the Vote,” 2016, https://www.shindig.com/case-studies/
Rock the Vote. “Rock the Vote presents: Election FM.” YouTube video, 1:01. Published November 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ByNxVyOvbYo
"#8 Does Raising Voices Count as Political Action?" The YPP Action Frame. http://yppactionframe.fas.harvard.edu/8-does-raising-voices-count-politi....
Allen, Danielle. "Reconceiving Public Spaces: The Flow Dynamics Model." In From Voice to Influence, edited by Danielle Allen and Jennifer S. Light, 178-207. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015.